Yet the moonlight leaking through the gap in her curtains was insistent. The far-off scent of earth and trees would not be denied. The other, nameless thing, the call, was like a hook that yanked at her, embedded in her chest. Her very bed conspired, suddenly seeming to turn hard and unyielding beneath her slender yet curvaceous contours as if to expel her from it.
So be it.
She did not even bother to dress, merely thrust her feet into her rabbit slippers and took off through the sleeping streets. If any virtuous burgher should rouse and catch her flitting past in her flimsy night-gown it was just too bad.
Perhaps they will take me for a sleepwalker, she thought. But it is they who are the sleepwalkers. I have never felt so awake, even in my dreams.
A distant clock sounded the witching hour as straggling suburbs gave way to unblemished fields and then the beckoning trees. The moon hung in the sky like a giant breast, pouring milky light over everything. An owl’s joyous hooting announced her arrival to the forest.
He was there, in the clearing, in the moonlight, as she had known he would be.
He was clad in his usual garb, and a lace-trimmed shirt open almost to the navel. And wearing, as usual, an invisible but unmistakable cloak of loneliness and shirt of gentle melancholy. She strove to control her heartbeat, knowing the pulsing vein in her neck would tempt and torment him almost beyond endurance. His handsome features smote her as always. It had been a week since she had seen them last—unless you counted the posters.
For this most lonely of men was, by a bitter irony, one known to millions.
He was Michael Bolton.
And yet he was more than that, terribly more. In our world, Michael Bolton is a singer with many hit records to his credit. And in this world, Hilda’s world, it was the same—but with a difference. In this world he had a secret, one he had shared with Hilda alone of the unsuspecting day-people.
In this world, Michael Bolton was a vampire.
A good vampire, she reminded herself, who fought evil wherever he found it and had vowed only to drink the blood of tax evaders and litterbugs and similar social undesirables, and even then tried to leave them enough to get home with. One who had saved her own life more than once, and showed her a world she had never dreamed of.
But still a creature of the night, a dweller in wild and lonely places, one who threatened to upset her orderly existence with his smouldering undead passion and un-ironed lacy shirts.
‘You came,’ he said, raking her with soulful eyes, a smile playing about his chiselled lips. ‘I knew you would.’
‘It was nothing to do with you,’ she found herself saying in sudden defiance. ‘I had a fancy to gather some firewood.’
The owl hooted its mirth; he gazed at her sadly.
‘How can we be lovers,’ he wondered softly, ‘when we can’t even be friends?’
Suddenly he cocked his head, supersensitive ears alert. Something was approaching.
‘He comes,’ he said grimly. ‘By his standards, almost punctual.’
A sleek stealthy shadow loped into the clearing. For an instant, the moonlight revealed it as a wolf—then it reared up, twisted, writhed, stretched, and was a wolf no longer but a man—a nude man, and hairy, but a man unmistakably, striding towards them with a cocky swagger and insouciant grin. And a famous man, another who had performed before millions while clutching a fell secret to his furry chest.
It was David Hasselhoff.
In this world, David Hasselhoff was a werewolf.
Not a good werewolf, Hilda reminded herself, nor quite a bad one, but a morally ambiguous one, a loose cannon who danced to a tune of his own piping and placed his own whim above any laws. If he too had saved her life more than once, he had also raided her fridge without permission and borrowed postage stamps from her without ever replacing them. Yet something in her responded to his uncouth manners and animal magnetism.
‘The soiree can start now,’ said Werewolf David Hasselhoff, jauntily lifting his leg to scent-mark a tree.
Suddenly he froze, snarled, and hurled himself at her with face contorted.
Like a blur, Vampire Michael Bolton moved between them and gripped Hasselhoff desperately. They were locked in a wrestling stance, the lycanthrope growling savagely.
‘The slippers!’ Vampire Michael Bolton snapped at her angrily. ‘I told you never to wear the bunny slippers!’
Quickly she tore off the rabbit slippers and hurled them to the far side of the glade. David Hasselhoff flung himself upon them and savaged them with his teeth, snarling and chewing and whipping his head from side to side rendingly until they were reduced to tattered wisps of fur. Then he cleared his throat and looked embarrassed.
‘Hilda has never learned not to play with fire,’ he said sullenly as he got to his feet, spitting out rubber. ‘It must end.’
She moved closer to Vampire Michael Bolton for reassurance, but he too was looking at her with unwonted sternness.
‘He is right,’ he said. ‘It must end tonight.’
The owl hooted ominously.
She looked at the two of them questioningly. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We are proud creatures, Hilda, and yet innocently or not you have toyed with us. We called you here tonight to make a decision. You must choose between us once and for all.’
Her heart sank within her. She had known this moment was coming.
‘Come with me and be my wolf-mate,’ said Werewolf David Hasselhoff. ‘We will roam the continent paw in paw, hunting, killing, and putting in the occasional appearance at Knight Rider conventions. I still have the car, you know.’
‘Or come with me and be my vampire bride, and perhaps also a backing singer.’
She wrung her hands and turned her back on them, tossed her head in an attempt at defiance.
‘And suppose I want neither of you? I already have a life, as managing directrix and chief designer of Dusseldorf’s feistiest basket-weaving start-up.’
Vampire Michael Bolton looked compassionate. ‘No, Hilda. That life has passed. The fact is that Fate weaves a tangled but inescapable basket for us all. You have tasted of the fruit of the night-folk. You no longer belong among the placid burghers of Dusseldorf.’
‘The afternoon strudel no longer satisfies you,’ put in Werewolf David Hasselhoff. ‘You want the taste of blood.’
‘It chafes you to confine yourself to the designated 4 mph strolling speed in the shopping plazas.’
‘You long to lope like a wolf, howling.’
‘Or flitter like a bat, squeaking.’
Yes. Yes, it was true. But—
‘I cannot choose!’ she cried. ‘Do not make me choose!’
‘You must choose, Hilda. You cannot have both. You would end up as an ungainly and unaerodynamic bat-wolf. They do not so much lope as waddle and do not so much fly as fling themselves optimistically out of trees.’
She sighed and sank to her knees. The owl hooted its commiseration.
‘Vampires stay up all night,’ said Vampire Michael Bolton.
‘A werewolf can give you a never-ending supply of mutton,’ said Werewolf David Hasselhoff.
‘How am I supposed to live without you?’ asked Vampire Michael Bolton huskily.
‘Forever and always, I’m always here,’ vowed Werewolf David Hasselhoff. ‘And did I mention KITT?’
‘Stop, stop!’ she cried, clutching her head.
‘In truth,’ said Vampire Michael Bolton, pacing the clearing broodingly, ‘this is not a life I would wish on anyone, least of all you. It is a lonely and outcast existence.’
‘I, too, have grown used to solitude,’ said Werewolf David Hasselhoff, squatting down and cleaning his testicles with his tongue. ‘But it has its compensations.’
‘And lycanthropy, many drawbacks,’ Michael Bolton shot at him. ‘Tell her about the hairballs and the near-constant bikini waxing.’
The wolfman leapt to his feet, eyes blazing. ‘Tell her about eternity looking like a circus clown because she can’t use a make-up mirror. Tell her how you run away from Frenchmen because of the garlic.’
He had gone too far. Quivering with rage, Vampire Michael Bolton flung down the challenge:
‘Your mother chases frisbees.’
Werewolf Hasselhoff sucked in his breath. It was the one unforgivable insult to the wolf-people, she knew. He gave a lopsided smile and almost casually returned the ritual defiance:
‘Your father was a fruitbat.’
The two squared off, their magnificent musculatures sharply etched with shadows in the moonlight.
‘No!’ she cried, throwing herself between them. ‘Stop!’
‘Get out of the way, Hilda,’ said Vampire Bolton quietly. ‘It is the way it must be. Since you cannot choose, one of us must destroy the other.’
‘Wait! No! A sing-off!’ she cried desperately. ‘For me! Settle it by sing-off!’
A glint came into both of their eyes. Unstoppable killing machines though they were, they were also supremely confident in their vocal skills.
‘And whoever wins would have you?’
‘Sounds good to me,’ said Vampire Michael Bolton. ‘If woofboy dares. Here, one week from now.’
Hasselwolf looked amused. ‘If you want to put yourself through it. Rules?’
‘No backing singers. We can each bring one hairdresser. You provide the strobes, I’ll bring the dry ice.’
Vampire Michael Bolton turned and looked at her with a tender yearning but no recrimination. ‘One week, Hilda, and then it must be settled. Until then.’
There was a whisper of speed in the night and they were both gone, leaving her alone with the mournful hooting of the owl.
Then the owl itself glided down to alight next to her in the clearing.
For a moment the moonlight glinted in its wise golden eyes. And then it was growing, shifting, changing. As it grew its feathers retracted, moulded into skin; fine nude manly limbs shaped themselves, and a human head topped the apparition, rotating 360 degrees around on its neck just because it could.
The face, when the fully formed owl-man finally stood there and its head stopped rotating, was strangely familiar—even famous.
It was John Farnham.
“I have watched you for a long time,” he said reaching out towards her. “Come with me and be my Owlbeast queen.”
Hilda wrung her hands and sighed. Now things were really complicated.