Written by Maureen Bowden / Artwork by Marge Simon
The Nature of the Beast
























In a city like Liverpool, an intelligent, good-looking young man should have no trouble enjoying a
full social life. Lance, however, had never found his niche. That was about to change. He read, for
the third time, the message in the Lonely Hearts column of the Daily Oracle: known to the locals
as The Orifice.

‘Female therianthrope, GSOH, wishes to meet male, species not an issue, for friendship and
nocturnal activities.’

He’d waited all his solitary life for a kindred spirit. Breathing a silent thank you to anyone or
anything that might be listening, he rang the female’s number.

She answered, “Hello.”

“Oh, hi, I’m ringing about your ad in the Orifice.”

“You a therianthrope?”

“Yes. Can we meet?”

“I’ll be outside Wetherspoons on Castle Street in half an hour.” She rang off.

He showered, sprayed with Lynx deodorant, pulled on his best jeans and his new Lyle & Scott top,
and applied his hair gel with a practised action. Within twenty-five minutes he was awaiting her
arrival, cursing himself for not asking her name.

A golden-haired girl approached him. Her long, slim legs appeared longer and slimmer due to five-
inch heels and a skirt of similar dimensions. Her eyes were as blue as the Curacao cocktail he’d
thrown up on his trainers at his brother, Clint’s, stag night, and her smile could light up a bus
station urinal. She offered him her hand. “I’m Lorelei Christie. Call me Loz.”

He shook it. “Pleased to meet you, Loz. I’m Arthur Lancelot Rigpath. Call me Lance”

“Your mum a fan of the Round Table, is she?”

“Sort of. She’d been watching a TV Christmas repeat of ‘Camelot’ on the night I was conceived.
Dad says she lay back and thought of Richard Harris and Franco Nero.”

She flashed another smile, linked her arm through his and led him into Wetherspoons. “Let’s eat.”

She nibbled on a jacket potato while he devoured his chilli and chips. “What’s your species?” she
said.

“Wolf. What’s yours?”

“Dragon.”

He choked on a chip. “What? They’re just myths, aren’t they?”

“Jeez. I’m having a conversation with a man who can morph into a wolf but doesn’t believe in
myths.”

“Sorry. I suppose that was a bit illogical. Do you breathe fire?”

“Yeah. So do you, judging by the smell of that chilli.”

They finished their meal and stepped out into the evening air, as the town was livening up with
Friday night revellers. Two teenage Beyonce look-alikes were fighting off the advances of two
amorous drunks. “Those girls look scared, Lance,” Loz said. “We need to help.”

This is it, he thought. This is where Arthur Lancelot Rigpath stops being a freak with an
embarrassing name and starts being a super-hero
. “Shall we?”

“Yes. Let’s morph.”

Bystanders screamed as a slavering wolf wrapped its jaws around a slavering drunk’s buttocks,
bounded through the city centre with its captive howling for his mammy, and dropped him in
Abercromby Gardens’ duck pond. The other drunk turned to flee and was confronted by a fire-
breathing dragon that clasped him in its talons and swooped above the gathering crowd. It
deposited him high above the entrance to Lewis’s department store, alongside Dickie Lewis, the
famous naked bronze youth, beloved of generations of city dwellers. The drunk wet himself, clung
to Dickie, and whimpered.  

The spectators cheered and clapped. The bus station urinal attendant remarked that this was the
best performance the Street Theatre Company had staged in years. Loz and Lance, now back in
human form, mingled with the crowd and waited for the emergency services to show up. The plods
brought the ’urry up wagon and the fire fighters brought a ladder. Loz’s drunk was prised away
from Dickie Lewis and carried down to safety. They had a clear view of him before he was chucked
into the wagon with Lance’s drunk, who’d been fished out of the duck pond.

“Oh, no,” Lance said. “I didn’t realise. It’s my brother, Clint.”

“Don’t tell me. Your mum had been watching ‘Fistful of Dollars.’”

“No, my dad, actually: Mum’s not into Westerns.”

“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have put him up there if I’d known he was your brother.”

“Don’t worry, Loz. It serves him right. He’s the black sheep of the family.”  

“Does he morph?”

“Not into an animal, but he goes berserk every time his wife leaves him.”  

“What about the rest of your relatives? Are you one of a pack?”

“I’m a lone wolf, as far as I know, but my uncle Nick’s the Beast of Bodmin Moor.”

“Cool. A big cat, right?”

“Right. What about you?”

“It’s hereditary on the female side: my mother, grandmother and way back since Saint George was
a lad. They’re the Scottish branch of the family.”

“In and around Loch Ness, by any chance?”

“Och aye. I come from a long line of Bonnie Nessies.”

The ’urry up wagon and the fire engine departed and the spectators started to disperse. “I enjoyed
tonight,” she said. “Do you want to meet up again tomorrow?”

“Yeah, sure. Can I give you a lift home?”

“No need. I’ll fly.” He tried not to look disappointed, but she must have sensed his change of
mood and she squeezed his hand. “Look, Lance. I may have given you the wrong idea with that
bit, in the ad, about nocturnal activity. It was kinda deliberate to suck people in, but I didn’t
really have sweet hockmagandy in mind.”

Having met his soul mate, Lance was on a quest, but a boy can’t push his luck with a girl who
breathes fire. He could wait. “It’s okay, I wasn’t trying to come on to you,” he lied. “What you said
about being in a pack has given me an idea. I’ll call you in the morning, after I’ve bailed Clint out
of clink.”

~ * ~

“Thanks bro’,” Clint said, as they left the police station. “What the hell happened last night?”

“Someone must have spiked your drink. The plods said you were hallucinating.”

“Too right, I was. Anyway, I owe you one.”

“Just stay out of trouble. There’s one thing you can do for me, though. Do you have Uncle Nick’s
number?”

“Yeah, sure. Gimme your phone. I’ll put it in for you.” Lance handed it over and Clint obliged.

“Thanks. Now get home and take a shower. You stink of pee.”

After a fruitful phone conversation with the Beast of Bodmin Moor in human form, Lance rang Loz.
“Hi, listen, did anyone else respond to your ad?”

“Yeah, a woman who wanted me to pass my rejects on to her, and a guy who left a voice mail. I
probably won’t reply to him.”

“Call them both. Get them to meet us in Wetherspoons at lunchtime. Uncle Nick’s coming too.”

“Yaay. We got ourselves a pack. See you there.”

He and Loz arrived early by unspoken agreement and waited to greet their guests. Jenny Nettles
arrived first. She was a plump, middle-aged lady, in a zip-up anorak and sensible shoes. “I’m a
rat,” she said. “I get to places other beasts can’t reach.”

Loz nudged Lance’s arm and pointed to a young man lounging in the doorway. His dark hair fell in
waves around his shoulders. He wore tight black leather trousers and a black tee shirt bearing the
logo, ‘Carpe Jugulum’. “I bet he’s a bat,” she said.

He approached their table, his eyes fixed on Loz. “Jaden Storme,” he said. “You must be Lorelei.”
He raised her outstretched hand to his lips.

“Species?” she asked, as he pulled up a chair beside her.

“Bat.”

She kicked Lance under the table. He felt like kicking Jaden. A tap on his shoulder distracted him.
He turned to face Uncle Nick. “How long have you been here?” he asked.        

“Long enough,” Nick said. “I’ve been observing the pack. Allow me to introduce myself. Nick
Rigpath: solicitor, model railway enthusiast and occasional panther.”

“Welcome, Nick?” Loz said. “Are you in?”         

“I am, indeed. We have here a rat, a bat, a cat, a sly young wolf and a lovely dragon lady. Now,
what can we do to make the world a better place?”

Jenny Nettles grinned, revealing a set of yellow teeth tending to pointiness. “I like to scuttle up
the bad boys’ trouser legs and sink my gnashers into succulent flesh.” Lance’s appetite fled and
he pushed his beef burger aside.

“Let’s talk tactics,” Loz said. “We had an audience last night but I think we should keep out of
sight in future.”

Jaden nodded. “We stay in the shadows and pounce on our victims.”

“Not victims, young man,” Nick said. “The persecutors who stalk, attack, terrorise and victimise
others: they’re the scoundrels we’re after.”

“But we’re not executioners,” Lance said. “We don’t kill them.”

“We frighten them, though,” Loz said, “and we don’t lose any sleep if they get a few cuts and
bruises.”

“And bites,” Jenny said.

The vigilantes agreed upon the time and location for their crime-fighting debut, then Jaden drifted
into a dark alley, Jenny went to Aldi to do her weekend shopping, and Nick steamed away to an
exhibition by the Model Railway Society at a church hall in Waterloo.

“What d’ya think of them, Lance?” Loz said.   

“Uncle Nick’s sound as a pound and Jenny’s a little belter but I’m not sure about Jaden.”

“Why not?”

“He was wearing eye-liner.”

“You have a problem with his life choices?”

“No, but I’m not sure if he can morph or if he’s been watching too many vampire movies.”

~ * ~

Julie Gahooly, paparazza and freelance dirt-disher, had the smell of a story in her nostrils. The
Orifice’s editor, Robert Wragg, said, “It’s all yours if you want it, JG. Same terms as usual: Give us
what you can get on the city centre beast malarkey, and if you can’t get it, make it up.”

JG flashed her dental implants. “No prob, Bob.”

Most people in her neighbourhood preferred to stay indoors at night, but it took more than
marauding street gangs to frighten JG. With her camera in hand she set off to find the beasts.

She heard a crash of breaking glass before she turned the corner and saw five hooded figures
hurling bricks through the liquor store window. They were making off with two bottles each when
the wolf and the panther sprang. JG’s camera flashed as two thieving scumbags were dragged off
to whatever fate awaited them.

A small rodent twitched its whiskers and disappeared up the leg of another scumbag’s trousers.
The trouser wearer gyrated like a hip-hopper, shrieking, “Gerritoffme, gerritoffme. Aaah, it’s got
me nuts.” He fainted. Ratty reappeared at the bottom of his other trouser leg and scurried away
with blood dripping from its jaws. JG’s camera flashed again.

The two remaining scumbags dropped their bottles and prepared for flight. A golden haired girl
stood in their path. Her neck grew long and sinuous, her arms spread into finely veined wings that
gleamed in the moonlight, and she became a dragon. JG’s camera flashed and flashed. With her
own eyes she’d seen the girl change, and she had the evidence. She wouldn’t have to invent
anything.

A shadow fell upon her. Its outline altered to that of an oversized web-limbed bloodsucker. JG
screamed. She could tolerate a gangsta or five but she was terrified of bats. The creature flew at
her face. Sobbing, she turned and ran, stumbled, and lay in the gutter. Silence replaced the
flapping of wings. She looked up at the handsome, longhaired young man whose dark eyes bored
into her soul.

He held out his hand for her camera. “May I?” She passed it over without protest, and offered him
her throat.

~ * ~

On Sunday morning JG had an out-of-office meeting with Robert Wragg, in The Grapes. A Burberry
scarf was draped around her neck. “Laryngitis,” she croaked.

On Monday the Orifice headline shrieked,

‘CITY UNDER SIEGE FROM ESCAPED BEASTS.
Chester Zoo Denies All Knowledge.’

The article detailed sightings of flying reptiles, prides of lions, and wolves the size of the bus
station urinal. It also reported that the A & E department at The Royal was on the point of
collapse due, to the influx of patients with bites to the groin area.

The general response of the populace was, “Here we go. Julie Gahooly’s at it again.” There were
no pictures. JG’s camera lay in the mud at the bottom of Abercromby Gardens’ duck pond.

~ * ~

Lance and Loz sat on the bench and threw stale bread to the ducks. “Jaden did well, I thought,”
she said. “Those pictures would have blown my cover.”

“Yeah, he did. But I think he’s more dangerous in the flesh than in the fur, or whatever it is that
bats have.”

Loz laughed. “It’s the nature of the beast,” she said. “I believe you’re jealous, but don’t worry,
he’s not my type. If he comes anywhere near my jugular I’ll set Jenny on him. She’ll make his eyes
water.”

“That’ll play havoc with his mascara.”

She slotted her fingers through his. “You know what I said about no sweet hockmagandy?”

He felt a stirring of hope, among other things. “Yeah?”

“Well, I didn’t mean it’s beyond all possibility. I like to keep my options open, and stranger things
have happened. Right?”

“Right,” he said. She smiled, and the world became a better place.
THE LORELEI SIGNAL
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian, living with
her musician husband, in North Wales. She has
had 45 poems and short stories accepted by
various publications, including 'Words With
Jam', 'Third Flatiron', 'Unsettling Wonder',
'Silver Pen', 'Kzine' and 'Mad Scientists
Review'.  

She loves her family and friends, Rock 'n' Roll,
Shakespeare and cats.