Sunday, January 24, 2016

Werewolves





"Mommy, read me a story."
"How about the werewolf one?"

There was a baby jack-o-lantern on Britt's windowsill. Teresa had taken Britt to the pumpkin patch. They had picked out a big pumpkin for the family room and a little pumpkin for Britt's room. "A mommy and a baby pumpkin," Britt had said. They'd carved a scary face into the big one with a knife, and had drawn a silly face onto the little one with a magic marker. Teresa and Britt turned off the overhead light and left the nite-lite on. Reading in this dim lighting would strain Teresa's eyes, but it was a short book, only a children's picture book, and a book like this required a spooky setting. Britt clutched a stuffed rabbit. Its fur was spiky where she'd drooled on it as a baby.


***


"When the moon is full, if you listen very carefully, you just might hear a particularly sad howl coming from the woods. This won't sound the same as a regular dog's howl. It will be mournful and full of longing."


- Mommy, what's '"mournful"?
- It means "sad."

"Daddy, I've read more books than anyone in my class!"

"That's great, sugar!"
"Do you want to read one with me?"
"Sometime, honey. Not tonight. Daddy's had a long day at work. Can't Mommy read it with you?"


Teresa had a full-time job, too. In March, Andy did their taxes. Teresa laughed bitterly at the gap between what he made and what she did.

"I might as well quit my job and set up a lemonade stand. I'd make about as much money as I do now. And Britt could help me."
Andy smirked, not looking up from the forms. "You help out. The way I look at it, I pay for the essentials, and you pay for the fun stuff, like movies and Disney World."
Teresa wasn't one of those women whose dreams had been thwarted by her early marriage and motherhood. She'd had no specific dreams to be thwarted. At the time she'd married Andy, all she'd wanted was to be loved.
They used to joke about how different they were. He said her views were "bleeding-heart liberal;" they’d argued when he'd said he didn't believe in medical marijuana for cancer patients. She'd wanted to go to New Orleans for their honeymoon, thinking of ancient iron-filigree railings and spicy food and live blues and steamy air, but he'd thought of it as a debauched and louche city. He'd wanted to go to a touristy beach in their state in the off-season, because it would be cheap. They went to the beach in their state.


"Sweetie, it's just some bimbo I met online. She might not even match her picture--she could be a fat hairy man for all I know."

"Don't touch me."



"The howl will sound almost like a human's cry. There's a reason for this. It's because the animal that you hear howling was once a person."

"Teresa? She works at a gift shop. What do they sell there? Middle-aged-lady stuff. Porcelain dolls and music boxes and purses. Stuff for women with nothing better to spend their money on. I try not to go within a five-mile radius of the place."

He was the one who had wooed her. She'd been the one out of his league. Then the power had shifted, and she'd dropped out to live in an apartment with him in the town where he went to college. She'd gotten a job as a waitress at a vegan cafe--to his chagrin, proud meat-eater that he was--and she made him coffee to keep him going when he stayed up late with textbooks.

"This story is about a werewolf who wasn't born this way. He was made into one by another werewolf. No one knows how the first werewolf was made, centuries ago. But the creature in this story used to be different. Everything changed for him on a night when there was a full moon."


Britt had been using the Internet to look up information for a school project when an IM had popped up from WetCherry69, addressing Andy by name and using the word "again." After dinner, Britt watched Nickelodeon in the other room.
"What the fuck, Andy?"
"Honey, don't swear. That's vulgar."
"That's vulgar? Today our 7-year-old daughter asked me what 'wet cherry' and ‘69’ means."
Somehow the blame had shifted. There were things that Teresa wouldn't do in bed, he said--not that he'd ever asked for them.
He'd sighed. "It's more than that. It's more than a checklist of what you will or won't do."
Teresa had stormed outside. It was snowing, and she wasn't wearing a coat. Her conservative husband had implied that she was a prude. What did he know? The moon was bright as she walked along the box-shaped houses on their street, breathing frigid air. These houses were medium-sized boxes. Andy was still working his way up at his firm. The plan was to move up to a bigger box-shaped house.
He didn't know that she only had an orgasm when she got off alone, and that she did that a lot when he wasn't around.
He didn't know that she sometimes slipped out of bed to watch softcore porn on cable TV in the family room with the volume turned way down.
He didn't know that she flipped through volumes of erotica in the "Romance" aisle at the bookstore. Her favorites were the stories about men who ravaged the women like hungry beasts.


"On that night, the man went walking under that full, bright moon. He wandered into the woods. He didn't know why. A darkness within the woods pulled him in like a magnetic force."


Back at the house, Andy and Britt were doing the dishes.
"Mommy! Where's your coat?"
"Honey, aren't you cold?"
"I'm not cold."


When Andy's snores grew deep and rhythmic, Teresa inched out of bed and crept to the family room. "Softly from Paris" was on--good raunchy, corny softcore. It was stupid, but it reliably made her wet. Tonight it wasn't enough. She snatched her keys from the hook by the door. She no longer cared if they jangled and woke Andy up.



"You might wonder, How does someone become a werewolf? There are many different legends from many different lands. Some people say that you become one willingly – they say that you become a werewolf by making a deal with the Devil. Others say that it happens on accident, when you drink water from the footprint of a werewolf. But most people these days say that you make the transformation when you're bitten by another werewolf."

- What's "transformation"?

- It means "change."

As she drove, Teresa's knee bounced.

Andy chastised her when she did something that he considered to be "skanky." When she wore a skirt with a hem that hit above the knee, he eyed the bare expanse of thigh, mentally calculating the inches of flesh that were revealed.
"Why are you wearing that? Do you want men to look at you? You should only care about what I think, and I already know what your body looks like."
He had conveniently forgotten this when he'd talked about her being boring in bed, but in the early days, she had suggested new things--she'd longed for him to give her oral sex; she'd read about "reverse cowgirl" position in Cosmopolitan magazine.
"Where did you hear about that?” he used to say in those long-ago days. “You really want to do that? What's wrong with the way we've always done it?"


"The creature in this story was bitten. When he walked into the woods that fateful night, he'd sensed that something dreadful might happen. But he'd walked into the woods anyway, almost as if he had no choice. Or as if he'd wanted something dreadful to happen."


- Mommy, why would he want something bad to happen?
- I don't know, honey. Maybe he was lonely, and he thought he might find a friend in the woods. Maybe it didn't matter to him if the friend was bad.

Where could she go, someplace that would piss Andy off if he knew? The first place she thought of was the truck stop by the Interstate. The local paper had done stories about the prostitutes and the truckers who sometimes got busted there. At the breakfast table, Andy read each story with relish and outrage. Later, when Britt wasn't around, he would recount any lewd details he'd read, shaking his head in apparent disgust.

Teresa drove toward that wash of white light in the darkness, the truck stop with the gas station, diner, and the motel where many of the trysts allegedly took place, the ones that didn't take place in the trucks' sleeping quarters. She drove past the minivans parked while families used the restrooms and bought snacks for the road. She drove on to where the trucks were parked. Outside, it was quiet and frosty. No leering truckers hanging around, no girls in thigh-high boots--not the way Teresa had imagined it at all. She walked into the diner.

"It was as if he'd wanted something dreadful to happen."

- Mommy, you already read that part.

A row of truckers sat at the counter drinking black coffee. Several of them looked up when she walked in. Ordinarily she would have ducked her head and blushed. Tonight she met their gazes. She walked to the counter to sit with them. The man to her left said his name was Russ, and he asked her what she was doing out so late. As she looked at him, unable to think of how to respond, his gaze crawled down to her lips, down her neck, down to where her breasts were hidden inside her zipped-up coat. Human speech was lost to her. Her heart beat, adrenaline flowed, blood rushed to her cheeks. She unzipped her coat. Russ summoned his waitress and said, "Could I get my check, please?"


"In the woods, in the darkness, the man felt something watching him, circling, stalking. He couldn't see the thing, but he felt it. He could have run out of the woods, but he didn't. He stayed there and let the thing come to him."


Strange, the way he led her to the front of the motel and told her to wait 10 minutes before meeting him by the ice machine so the clerk wouldn’t suspect anything and call the cops--all as if this were something that the two of them had done before. And strange, the way she gave him instructions after entering the room.
"Don't be gentle. I want you to ravage me. Destroy me." The last word came out cottony, her throat constricted with emotion.
He had looked at her with a quality of understanding that she'd never felt from anyone before. It was primal.
She was naked in this room at the Econo Lodge off the Interstate, in this motel, the very one that Andy had read about in the newspaper. Now Russ was pushing her back onto the bed, spreading her legs, here in this place that Andy had railed against.
Andy would say, "Why do you feel sorry for them? They're whores. You and your bleeding heart."


"After the creature had bitten him, this man-who-was-no-longer-a- man discovered that he had a deep hunger. It was a new kind of hunger that he'd never felt before. It was a hunger for dark things. This hunger scared him. Werewolves are not like vampires. For vampires, who must sleep in thick coffins during the day to avoid sunlight, night is a safe time. But for werewolves, when there's a full moon, night is when the craving becomes desperate. They transform. They grow beastly and wild. They grow fangs. They howl with longing."


At the playground, Britt scrambled up the jungle gym with her friends. Teresa prowled along the perimeter of the blacktop, in the dry grass. The sun beat down strongly, and Teresa looked right at it. It was only for a couple of seconds, because then Britt had yelled, "Mom, push me on the swings!" Alone in the car, Teresa drove on long stretches of road and watched the needle on the speedometer rise to 80, rise to 90, rise to 100, and keep going. She would do this for a few seconds and then drop back to the posted speed limit.
She began to eat meat. She went to a bakery and gorged on rich, sugary, fatty foods. She wanted to taste everything: red meat, the hottest spices, hard liquor, hard drugs.
On her evening fitness walks, she would veer off her regular route, leaving the medium-sized boxes that were inhabited by people who longed for bigger boxes. She would walk into the woods, listening to snow and fallen branches crunch under her boots.


"One night when the moon was full, the man-who-was-no-longer-a- man felt a hunger so strong that he didn't think he could stand it. He ran into the woods, tearing at his human clothes, fur bursting from his skin, veins throbbing with bloodlust. He could feel fangs slithering through his gums to fill his mouth, and he ran his tongue over them. This feeling overpowered him--hunger, joy and terror at being alive. In a clearing in the woods, the moon emerged from behind a cloud, showering him with soft silver light. It was too much for him. He lifted his face to the sky and screamed a deep-throated, bone-chilling scream. He was crying out to everyone and no one."



She itched with unfocused lust. She wanted to be touched--no, manhandled. She longed to stare into the brightest thing in the universe, to move at death-defying speed. Life throbbed in her veins. One snowy night, as Andy and Britt slept, she left the house without her coat on again. She ran into the woods, into a clearing filled with moonlight, and tore off her clothes. In the sharp coldness, she panted, her breath steaming, her naked skin going pink as blood rose to the surface. She lifted her face to the crystal-clear black sky. She didn't make a sound.

"The next day, that scream was the talk of the village where the werewolf lived. Because he looked like a man during the day, his neighbors didn't know that he was the werewolf they'd heard howling in the woods. People talked about how scared their children had been. The werewolf made a decision.  


He had a family, a wife and son, who didn't know his secret. One day soon after the scream, the werewolf pulled his son aside and told him the secret. He gave his son a gun and a silver bullet. He said to his son, 'If I ever become dangerous, please kill me.'"


- I'm sorry, honey; is this story too scary for you? We can stop reading it.
- No, it's okay. I want to hear it.

"When the next full moon came, the werewolf writhed in the woods, far from civilization, tormented by an unfocused desire. The longing had grown stronger with each full moon. Now, he salivated with hunger for flesh and blood. It had to be sated, even if it meant that someone had to get hurt. He turned toward the village, his home, where his family and neighbors lived. He began to charge at it. He was almost out of the woods when a silver bullet pierced his heart. Because of his son, the village would be safe. The werewolf lay on the snowy ground. In his open eyes were two full moons."


In the woods, a cloud slid over the moon. Teresa looked around her, her panting slowed. Her clothes lay in heaps, and she shivered. A cold breeze blew through the brittle branches. Britt was asleep at home, and Teresa was here, naked in the woods. Teresa dressed and returned home.


***


Britt sat up and let go of her drool-spiked rabbit. In the dim light, she now saw that there were no words on the pages.


"Mom, is that story true?"
"It could be."

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