Wolfbane

My annual Halloween post.

The kids would tease and mock him, call him Woofy, or Captain Wolfbane, even though it was unconscionably mean given what had happened. Some still call him that to this day, behind his back. It was because of his story about the attack.

He’d always insisted that what he saw that night was not a pack of dogs or any kind of ordinary wild animal. His parents, the authorities, the school counselors, his friends, no one could convince him otherwise. Gradually, as he grew up, he recovered some sense of normalcy in his life, but the memory of his little brother’s death simply would not fade. He was hobbled by the burden of a truth none would accept and that he could not deny.

Now a grown man in the same little town, nestled in the mountain’s afternoon shadow, he works and lives just outside the stream of everyday life. Polite relations with the townsfolk, always, but distant, and dwelling alone. He works the yard down at the mill and is tolerated as a harmless oddball. Some of the women quietly look out for him in a protective, motherly way. They see in him the traumatized child and think dear God, that poor boy.

But after returning from his last trip to the Balkans this once quiet borough was thrown into a panic. Brutal animal attacks began occurring. No survivors, bodies mutilated, often beyond recognition. The malignancy swept through the valley on a cycle linked to the moon’s full appearance and soon the connection began to be made. Captain Wolfbane was called in for questioning by the police chief. It was becoming impossible to ignore the story he’d insisted was true so many years before.

What do you know about these attacks, they ask him. He has a rising sense of indignation, that people should have listened to him before. His story had never changed, even in the face of the kinds of pressure that authority and popular opinion can bring to bear. And he was still just a child at the time. These horrible deaths were shaking the town to its foundations, but it was nothing new to him. He would help if he could. There remained a sense of decency and kindness in his makeup, even if his outward behavior seemed aloof. What could he do though, he’d made some progress in his research, but there was nothing conclusive, and plenty better left unsaid.

Why do you travel to Romania? What do you do there? Are you still convinced of the existence of werewolves? His absences during these trips did not go unnoticed. He had let on as little as possible but this is a small town. Folks stick their noses in, and they like to talk. They knew where he’d gone, had nothing more than ideas as to why. “He thinks he’s a werewolf hunter,” they’d snicker. “He scours the news for hints of unusual animal attacks. He thinks he’s going to find this mythical beast and avenge his brother.”

With nothing to fear he answered their questions forthright. He was convinced of nothing, but that his experience from before lurked within his memory like an autonomous entity, like something hunting. Similar attacks had occurred in Eastern Europe and that is what compelled his interest. He’d traveled there three times now, and otherwise stayed alone in his little shack with no alibi to offer. His deposition only intensified the cop’s suspicions. Now, whatever it was, was right here in his back yard. No need to travel anymore, correct? He thought a moment, then simply agreed.

The chief and her deputy questioned him late into the evening as the moon, near full this night, stabbed shafts of silver-blue light through the station house window and into his unaverted, aching eyes. And then he remembered. He remembered what had gotten so thoroughly erased from his mind each time it happened. He felt his blood heating and expanding, his bones warping into unnatural shapes with agonizing surety, the intoxicating whiff of warm, salty flesh igniting within him a power he knew nothing could control. He watched the officers, their faces, as it dawned on them. The impossibility of it right before their eyes. You believe me now, he thought.

In that fleeting moonlit portal that rises so briefly between his two worlds stands the shock of recognition. Each side suddenly knows the other. Each side seeing itself as a blighted image of the other, like two clouded mirrors chained face to face. The light and the darkness, the purity of each contaminated by the other. Unbearable, this knowledge, that he himself could do what so horribly was done to his own kid brother, but the segue is mercifully short. And he would awaken numb to recollection come morning, innocent as a bloody ax which knows nothing of who had wielded it, or why.

Last year’s Halloween post can be found haunting this link.

Delta

I was barely in the door when she spoke, without looking up. “The devil’s layin’ for those who walk the path of righteousness,” she said, apropos of nothing.

She put on an old delta blues record and started a little striptease to it. The bottleneck slide put a sadness in the air, becoming of her dim little bedroom. Sun dapples of late afternoon played on the shear curtains through the crepe myrtles by the window, and the walls glowed the yellow of candle-lit paper. I sank into the springy seat of a musty old wingback as she moved in fluid half steps, her petite form swaying. The record popped and hissed and a gravely old voice tried to warn us about some beautiful true thing. Some unavoidable thing.

I thought about God’s righteousness. It’s a suit of clothes. We play dress-up and save virtue for a rainy day. Always a goal, no more livable than a memory. There’s your devil, right there. The good in me is almost close enough to touch, but church people rub me the wrong way. I caught her eye and she gave me a wink. We go way back. You’d need a passport to get there, and better go soon. The memories have already lost a shoe.

There was always something of the healer in her, and she knew things. Myself, I never got away with anything. She could out-think the natural, make ailments shy away—or become severe if you had crossed her in some way. The rain would stop, even, if it sensed she’d had enough of it. That’s how people saw her, anyway. They would seek her counsel in matters of personal doubt, like you would a preacher. She had that reputation, and a kind of congregation had formed around her. She tolerated the hangers-on with a resignment that troubled her not so much. I was one of them, come to think of it. Closer than most, but not apart from them, or above them, as I sometimes wished to be.

She paused a moment and fixed me with a look. “Who are you again?” A good question. I supposed I was following the natural order of things. You lead yourself around by your own nose, and then wonder why you end up where you do. I told her I didn’t really know. I used to think I did, but not any more. She nodded thoughtfully and continued swaying to the music, working the sweater draped across her shoulders in a provocative way. I always felt forgetful around her. Like memory is just a treading water. The song ended and the phonograph lifted its little arm and clicked off. I felt pressed to get out of there.

“We’ve got to get going, mom,” I said. “Where do you want to eat? Let’s try to keep our clothes on, okay?”


Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Passage

It was a routine run over the Pacific, en route to the antipodes with a resupply for the colony. Weather clear, trade winds driving our massive hydrogen balloon on coarse and in good time. Then, on the third night, our dirigible was overtaken and boarded by pirates of a most aggressive demeanor. Our security team had scrambled to the alert siren but fell in check to the intruders before a counterattack could be mounted. Their leader, a surly brute with cancerous skin and a hook for a hand, had us corralled on the quarterdeck and an unhappy end seemed at hand.

It was the dragon attack (they’d flown in out of nowhere it seemed) that was our saving grace. Differences aside, we were now all fighting for our lives, gangster and citizen alike, against a common peril. The pirate’s vessel was dispatched in a horrific fireball almost immediately, as this type of aircraft is quite vulnerable to sparks and heat. We drove the great beasts away again and again with our water cannons, as they are averse to moisture, and we resorted at last to praying for rain. A sound drenching from a thunderstorm would surely drive the dragons away.

That’s when the alien craft uncloaked itself off our starboard bow. The ship was birdlike in form and its sudden menace provoked the flying reptiles to leave us and attack it at once. Then, as men encounter that divide where waking crosses into dream, and unsure which side was which, we report to you that the captain of the alien force beamed in before us on a shaft of light, the sight of which none of us would be eager to testify to, and even the heretics among us were moved to cross themselves.

The being spoke to us as plain as a man ordering a meal, and bid us good day and asked if he could borrow some tea. With great relief, we all understood this as the blossoming of peaceful relations for we sky-men are all dedicated tea drinkers, pirate and merchant alike. Our captain had us fetch four full parcels of our best Darjeeling and everyone started to relax. On port side we watched with amazement as the alien ship protruded teat-like spouts which the dragons, now tame-like, hovered before and fed upon, like hummingbirds. Our captain hailed down to the galley and bid the ship’s cook to prepare a feast.

Soon we were all bending elbows as brothers and the fiddles started and the party roared in the clouds and starlight until morning’s glow arced over the brim of the ocean, though we kept a sharp eye, the whole time, on those pirate fellows, and they upon us. In our hearts we’d have loved to reform those thieving rascals and welcome them to the mercantile way of life, but those low ways get into a man’s blood. We bid the alien captain, having pulled him aside, to remove these characters down to the surface, as their ship had been reduced to ash. He agreed, and to our astonishment they all dissolved into a sparkling orb of light right before our eyes and were gone.

Sated, the dragons had disappeared as abruptly as they’d arrived, and all seemed well under the sky. We asked the alien captain how they go about taming dragons. We found his answer a bit strange, that they like to have the dragons on their side when they visit, so they’d developed a drug-like meal formula that the beasts find irresistible. Reluctant to elaborate, he thanked us again for the tea and departed on that crazy beam they use to get around and their ship then, likewise, vanished.

The Line

I barely had one foot in this world when they handed me a face and a name and a number and said, “get in that line over there.” So I did. I don’t know much else. I don’t know where the line goes. The lady ahead of me doesn’t know either, or the guy behind—you’d think someone would know. And don’t think I haven’t asked around. Everyone has. Around here it’s like talking about the weather. Anybody find out where the line goes? Nah. Think it will rain tomorrow? Maybe. Continue reading “The Line”

This Baby

He gunned the motor and glanced over at me thinking he looked more like James Dean than he did Burt Reynolds. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. “Let’s see what this baby will do,” he said. There was still some grease on his knuckles, from under the hood where he spent most of his time.

“What baby?” I said, looking around the car. I didn’t see a baby. He scoffed and lit a Camel with his Zippo and clicked it shut like a Shaolin pebble snatch. He dropped it in gear and floored it. As the second stop sign came racing past I raised my finger in point of fact. “We’re not so bad that we can’t die young,” I observed. “What?” he shouted and checked the rear view mirror for cop lights. He was too busy driving for this sort of chit-chat.

Past the city limits the road ahead drew to a point on the horizon. A metallic shudder shimmied through the car’s body as we slipped past the nineties and well into hundreds. The windows down, it was all furious air but with a stubborn silence at the heart of the roaring. The self calming effect of speed as it settles in and grows accustomed to itself. It was like a zone where the urge to cheat death feels as comfortable as a slice of pie.

Death may be hunting you but a fast car and a certain amount of attitude can make the chase a worthwhile distraction from the mundane routine of an hour hand stalking a circle of digits. A young buck’s got better things to do. We spotted a couple of skirts in a convertible at the Dairy Queen and pulled in. Sometimes you have to roll out your own welcome mat. He smiled at them and said, “hello girls.” You don’t have to look like James Dean, so long as you feel like him.

Respectable people call it a misspent youth, but we did our best to keep misspending it well into adulthood. We intended to give retrospect something worth pondering. You could see what was coming and the youthful resistance was naturally slow to come to heel. The first one to get married and wear a tie’s a rotten egg. But you can’t argue with the tides. Better to see your doctor in church than your priest in a hospital.

Seventy years later he disconnected the charger from the self-driving electric transport and said, “let’s see what this baby’s got.” I stowed my walker in the rear hatch and said, “what baby?” I didn’t see a baby. He took a deep breath through the oxygen tube at his nostrils and commanded, “take us to the pharmacy.” An electronic whirring shimmied through the robotic vehicle as it slowed to a halt at the stop sign. We were getting tired by now of cheating death. It was starting to feel the other way around.