I should have known something was wrong when I woke up naked on the kitchen floor next to a half-empty bag of puppy chow, full as a tick.
I’d been drinking the night before, I knew that much. I’d been getting headaches. Real blinders, worse every day for a week or more, feeling like they were leading up to something. Right, I know. It’s so obvious in retrospect. All the signs were there. But at the time it didn’t even occur to me. That’s how stupid I was.
I’d been home alone drinking tequila shots, pounding Tylenol, and thinking about calling the girl I’d seen on Sunday at the Dancing Bare—Luz, she said her name was—until…until what, I didn’t know. I woke up in a hot sweat with the chow bag torn up beside me, feeling sicker than I’d felt all week. I staggered to the sink and drank cold water from the tap. There were scratches on the kitchen floor. Puffs of hair, the kind you get when you comb a dog. I didn’t have a dog anymore, just like I didn’t have a food processor or a socket set. Amazing, the things you shed in a divorce.
It was early morning, maybe six AM. The trash guys were banging the cans outside the window. It was louder than anything I’d ever heard. I headed to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. Hair all over the place, bloodshot eyes, hangdog jowls. Thirty-eight years old, looking like Nick Nolte’s mug shot. And I needed a shave like I’d been in prison for a week, even though I’d just scraped myself the day before.
I wondered if I’d been passed out longer than just a night. To grow a beard like that… I rubbed my hand over it. Salt and pepper where it used to be all pepper. It was so long it felt soft. It made no sense, but here’s how much I wasn’t computing: I just thought, Huh.
Then I walked back into the kitchen, past the savaged chow bag, and turned the coffeemaker on. Looking back now, it’s like watching some horror flick where the teenager goes down into the basement. You know where it’s headed, we all know where it’s headed. But the kid’s living in his own little world. He doesn’t see what’s coming until it literally bites him in the ass.
By noon, I was feeling fit and limber, ready to run steeplechase. My belly was flat as a board and I could feel muscles in there that I hadn’t felt in years. All the little ones along the sides, the ones along the spine, everything you see in spray-tanned detail on those hairless guys in the Soloflex ads. I had muscles in my forearms. I had muscles in my fingers. I was fizzing with energy. I was on fire.
I went for a run, and I covered eight miles in fifty minutes. Eight miles—that’s more than I could do in college. I did my two-mile loop four times. I would have done more, but I kept getting distracted by how things smelled. I’d never smelled a world like that before: sweet and salty and smoky and grassy and shitty and totally fascinating. I’d be running along and a smell would hit me, would wrench my head around in a phantom hammerlock, and I’d skid to a stop and stand panting, probably drooling a bit, just smelling. It didn’t matter if it was barbecue or a dead squirrel in the gutter. I was on it.
I went home, showered off, and dug around in the freezer for a cut of meat. I was craving steak, bloody and salty. No, I was craving steak before it was steak—I was craving something that would kick and bellow, that would fight back. I showed my steak a frying pan for about thirty seconds, humming to myself the way Heather used to hate, the way I do when I’m nervous. I ate with my fingers.
Let me stop you here, because I know what you’re thinking: What’s new? We’ve all heard this story before, we all know how it goes. Or how it ends, at least. Pomeranians snapped from their leashes, teenagers menaced in alleys, the final full-on hairy outbreak under a full moon—and out come the cops, out come the guns. Before you know it, all that’s left is a steaming, blood-streaked corpse depilated messily against a church wall. It’s a sad, bad business, werewolvery. It’s not sexy, like vampirism. It’s a public nuisance. It smells bad, and it sheds.
But let me stop you here, because this is my story, and since I’m here to tell it, I obviously haven’t met up with my bad end yet. And I don’t plan to, either. Even if it did take me forever to figure out what was going on. Even if Madame Blavatsky did have to tell me point-blank what she’d told half a dozen other guys in her career: Son, you’re a werewolf. That’ll be five bucks.
I didn’t go to Madame Blavatsky for the fortune; she came to me. I was in my apartment, doing one-armed push-ups, when she knocked on my door with the handle of her plunger.
“Sweet fancy Moses,” she said. “Let me look at you.” She backed me down the hall into the living room, past the scattered chow and the hair clinging to the baseboards. Blavatsky has a bustline like the Titanic and a mustache like Salvador Dalí; if she wants you to go somewhere, you go.
“My God,” she said, pointing the plunger at me. “I can’t believe it. All that noise last night—I was hoping it was another one of your bimbos. Who’s going to fix my drains now?”
“You’re a werewolf,” she snapped, and for a second I thought she was going to whack me across the nose with the business end of the plunger. “For God’s sake, man, look at you.”
I just stood there, frozen. I could smell Madame Blavatsky’s deodorant, I could smell the fish-oil vitamins she pricks with a pin and applies to her eye wrinkles. I looked past her into the kitchen where I’d left the bloody steak plate.
I said: “Aw, shit.”
“You lie down with dogs,” said Madame Blavatsky, not sounding very sympathetic. She knew more than she had any right to know about my past life, my married life—and about why I wasn’t married anymore. She claimed she read my aura, but I think she read my mail. For all her bead curtains, incense sticks, and ancient Russian tea ceremonies, she was still just plain old Etheline Brophy to the USPS. “You need a palm reading, Mr. Hairy Palms.”
“I need a lawyer,” I said, but somehow I ended up sitting at the table while she held my hand to the light and fished for her glasses in her black bouffant.
“I see sin in your past,” she informed me, and I thought, Big surprise. “You broke a covenant, you betrayed a love. This affliction is your curse to bear.”
“I thought it was a virus.”
“And a curse,” she said easily, dropping my hand. “You caught it from one of your floozies, but you already knew that. All the lawyers in the world aren’t going to help you now.”
“You’re supposed to tell me my future, not judge my past.”
“Okay,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “Tonight you’re going to turn into a wolfman, and you’re going to run wild in the streets until the cops shoot you dead. And then I’m going to take your apartment, because the light is better.”
“Don’t mention it.” She gathered up her plunger and stood with a groan. “I don’t work for free, mister.”
I found five bucks in a drawer and gave it to her. As I was letting her out, she turned back to face me, a dark look in her eyes.
“I have my husband’s revolver. From the war. It’s in my night table.”
“Jesus,” I said, recoiling. “I’m not going to attack you.”
“I didn’t mean for me,” she said. “I meant for you. To take care of business. No charge.”
We looked at each other.
“Thanks all the same,” I said, opening the door a little wider. She shrugged.
“If you change your mind.” She left, and two minutes later I heard her down the hall knocking on Peterson’s door, nagging him to fix her sink.
I had some time to think, but I didn’t use it very well. I swept up the hair and put the puppy chow away. I licked the steak pan. I tried to smoke a cigarette, but the smell burned my nose. Before I knew it, the afternoon had faded to evening.
I panicked. I thought of all the stories I’d read about guys just like me: deadbeats with baggy faces in the one photo—usually an old booking photo—the papers managed to find. I didn’t have a booking photo, but I was pretty sure they’d find something just as bad. I’d seen a story like mine just the week before, some poor schmuck who went wolf and tried to break into a mansion in the hills. The wife just opened a second-story bedroom window and plugged him in the head. He’d been a night cashier at a gas station. The story didn’t say how he caught the virus, but it didn’t have to. When you read about guys like him taking a load of silver and landing in the city morgue, you think Good riddance and turn the page. Guys like that, you practically expected them to get it. Guys like me.
I thought about all the women I’d slept with in the last six months. It was a long list. For the last five of those months, I’d been bartending at The Oyster, until I got shitcanned for pouring too many free Harvey Wallbangers for too many girls. It was worth it, though. I banged a lot more than walls at The Oyster. Sitting at the table with the cold steak pan beside me, I ran down the list. Melanie, Jamie, Ruby, Shasta… I couldn’t remember them all. There’d been that girl with the paste-on diamond on her front tooth, and that girl with the T-shirt that said, “I’m sexier than your wife.” I tried to remember if any of them had seemed… wolfy. If any of them had scratched and bitten more than ordinary. That diamond tooth, I should have seen that coming. Or maybe it was the girl with the paw-print tattoo, what was her name? Chablis?
I was still sitting there making my list when I realized it was full dark outside and I was sweating. I had a headache. It felt familiar. I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. My face looked leaner than usual. My nose looked longer. I wasn’t sure, but I thought my eyebrows were gaining ground. I leaned close, and smelled the metal tang of the silvered glass. I sneezed, cracked myself in the forehead, and left a star behind.
In movies, there’s always a convenient cage or a pile of heavy chains just sitting around. All I had was a deadbolt and a ladder-back chair to lean against the knob. Which wouldn’t do me much good, since I was on the inside. I tore the place apart looking for something I could jerry-rig into a leash. Nothing. At last I sat down on a pile of Playboys and cried.
It’s weird, but as the change was coming on, as I started to feel the skin-prickling heat and the weird bone shifts, as my vision started to go fuzzy and my smell sharpened, as I glanced out the window and saw the full moon over the Chinese convenience mart and realized it was really happening, right now, this was it—I kept thinking about Heather. Heather back in the beginning, when we started dating. A million years ago. High school.
I was a doofy kid with an after-school gas-jockey job, and she was a doofy kid with an old Dodge Dart, flat-painted a color my dad called “hooker green.” She’d pull up in a cloud of smoke and shut off the engine, and when I strolled up to her window it’d still be dieseling. The window didn’t open; she had to crack the door to tell me to give it seven bucks’ worth of regular. She had a blue streak in her hair, and a Velvet Underground tape sticking out of the deck. I fell hard. The third time she pulled up for gas, she asked me out for a beer. I’d been trying to think of a way to ask her—something cool, something casual—and she straight-up beat me to it. She was good like that. She never made me guess where I stood.
I sat on that slippery pile of magazines, in the middle of two years’ worth of plastic boobs and waxed boxes, and watched the hair grow out of the back of my hands. Through a blinding headache, I watched my fingernails turn stubby and black, and saw a dewclaw push out of my forearm. I felt a tail start to saw out the base of my spine. I kept crying, thinking of Heather driving that old Dart with the Virgin of Guadalupe swinging from the rear-view mirror, singing along with Lou Reed. Me in the passenger seat with an open Natty Lite in my lap and the wind in my hair. The road rolling out open in front of us.
I woke up on something cold and hard. I wasn’t in the apartment. I was in a doorway, on a sidewalk. And I was naked.
I sat up. It was still dark. The streetlights were on, throwing a sickly orange light. I felt like I’d been pummeled by the Oyster bouncer, a guy we all called Bluto (but not to his face, because he had Russian mob connections). I probed my teeth with my tongue and peered at my hands. From what I could tell, I was myself. Not a wolf. Just another late-thirty-something stubble-faced dude waking up naked on the sidewalk. Happened every day.
I hooked a free weekly that had been lying in the doorway with me and used it to paper my loins. I was in the old-town district, the grotty part that was half dive bars and half struggling art galleries. That meant I was about five miles from home.
“Shit.” I coughed, then coughed again, then gave in to a real hacking fit. When it was over I was barely clinging to my newspapers, and I’d horked up a hairball onto the sidewalk. I might have stood there until daylight if a car hadn’t turned the corner and passed me with “Smoke on the Water” sliding through the windows. The kid inside gave me a sustained stare as he went by. His head actually swiveled on his neck.
I had to get home. I started trotting down the sidewalk, trying not to step on any gum or glass or globs of spit. Within a block, the concrete was tearing up my feet.
“I need a cab,” I told myself—but there were no cabs in this neighborhood, not at this time of morning, and anyway, what cabbie would stop for a guy like me? Pretty obviously, I had no wallet. Then I realized I was in Heather’s neighborhood. I’d driven by her apartment before, I knew where it was. I was probably two blocks away. I could go there. That’s what marriage was about. Even if you were divorced, you still had to take each other in.
After my third knock, I heard her come down the long flight of stairs to the front door and pause.
“Who is it?” I could smell her through the door, her sleepy, just-woke-up smell. Or maybe I was kidding myself, maybe I just wanted to smell her.
“It’s me.” I waited. Nothing happened. “Martin.” Nothing. “Your ex-husband.”
“I know who you are,” she said. “Why are you here?”
“Just open the door.” Another car was coming down the street. I clutched the papers tighter. “Come on, Heather. Let me in.”
“Are you drunk?”
“No! Come on, open up.”
There was a long pause. The car crawled by with its windows closed. A woman in the passenger seat, staring. I could feel cold air on my ass cheeks.
Then, the sound of half a dozen locks unlocking. The door opened. Heather stood there in her pajamas and robe, her hair a tumbleweed, her face sleep-puffy.
“Jesus, Martin,” she said. “Why are you naked?”
Heather’s apartment was small and untidy, and she had a roommate. Some guy named Sook, or that’s what I thought she said. I squinted when she said it.
“Sukhwinder,” she said. “He’s a student. He’s asleep. Put this on.” She undid her robe and gave it to me, then turned away while I got into it. It was dark blue velour, and it smelled like her. I remembered it from some Christmas years ago, in a box from her parents; it was supposed to be for me, but she stole it and I let her.
What’s going on?” she asked, putting the kettle on the stove. She was in her old plaid pajamas, and her hair was messed up in back. The clock read a quarter to six.
“I don’t know,” I said. I was still checking out the apartment. It smelled like her, her familiar smells of conditioner and skin—but it also smelled like something else, something spicy. Curry, I guessed. Sukhwinder was an Indian name. Was he just her roommate, or her boyfriend? “I like your place.”
“Be quiet,” she said, taking mugs from a cupboard. “I told you, Sukh’s asleep.”
There was a click of nails on lino, and I turned to see Bert coming over from his bed in the corner. He looked half-asleep, happy to see me—but then he stopped short like someone had pulled his tail. I leaned over but he backed off. I swear he gave me a reproachful look. Then he went back and lay down on his bed, staring at me over his paws.
“Bert,” said Heather, watching from the stove. “What’s wrong with you?”
I sat there at the kitchen table—familiar table, familiar chairs—and watched her staring at our dog. I felt a tearing sensation in my chest, right under my throat. I wanted to go over and put my arms around her, pull her close, and just lean into her. Breathe in her hair and neck, like I used to do in the crappy little apartment we got together after high school. Before marriage turned into a trap and I started chewing my limbs off, one by one.
“Heather.” She turned and looked at me, and I arranged the robe over my lap, conscious of how stupid I looked. “I have to tell you something, and I don’t know how—”
“You turn up naked on my doorstep at five in the morning? I don’t even want to know.”
“I’m a werewolf,” I said. A nuclear flush rose out of my chest, into my cheeks. “I’m… yeah. A werewolf.”
She stared at me, holding a mug against her stomach.
“I just found out,” I said. “I mean, I haven’t had it long. Not when… not when we were together. I think, one of the girls I was… I mean, I think it’s a recent thing—”
Heather turned away to face the oven, and I flinched. She stood like that for a minute, not moving. Not showing me her face. Then she took a deep breath and turned back. She was holding the mug tight against her stomach, stroking it with her thumb. There were two points of color high in her cheeks.
“You’re not my husband anymore,” she said. She turned and set the mug down on the counter. “You’re not my responsibility.”
“And you know what the worst part is? You know what makes me saddest?” She paused, eyeing me. I stood there with a bowling ball of gloom in my gut. “You got this thing because you think being a man is about chasing tail. That’s your father, all over. He made you think that way, and look where it got you.”
I started to say something like, “Come on” or, “Take it easy.” One of the million things I’d said over the years when Heather pointed out that my dad was kind of a dick.
“Get out,” she said. She raised her hand and pointed, the way she told Bert to slink on out when he pissed on the rug. For once I couldn’t think of anything else to say. So I slunk out.
I walked the five miles home barefoot in the blue robe. When I got there I found my front door standing open, long claw marks in the wood. The lock dangling off the frame. Inside, Madame Blavatsky sat on one of my crappy chairs with her feet on the table, a brown cheroot dangling from her lip. She had the paper open in her hands.
“I was just looking for you,” she said, closing the paper and shaking it. “No mention yet.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” I said. “We can dream.”
I was so tired I could barely stand, and I’d worn my feet raw. I collapsed in a chair and fished with one hand to make sure my robe wasn’t hanging open. Madame Blavatsky’s cigarette stung my nose.
“Where were you?” She folded the paper and tossed it aside. “In the pound, maybe? The zoo?”
“Did I make a lot of noise?” I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. “Did anyone hear me?”
“Heard the wolf-man howling at the moon? Clawing and scratching and banging at the door?” She pursed her lips, so her mustache caught the light. “No, nobody heard.”
I sat back. “It’s like a fairy tale.” Madame Blavatsky looked at me sharply.
“Every man who gets it thinks that,” she said, getting up and stubbing out her cigarette in my steak pan. “You’re not original, Mr. Wolf. You’re nothing special.”
She walked to the fridge and looked at the photo I’d stuck up: Heather in our old backyard, in cutoffs and one of my work shirts, holding a big rock in her gloved hands. Squinting into the sun. We’d built a little garden out of chunks of concrete the landlord had left lying around. Prairie flowers, zucchini. It had been pretty. The magnet on the picture was in the shape of a girl on a stripper pole. The Landing Strip, it said at the bottom.
Madame Blavatsky put out a finger and touched the magnet, moving it slightly aside. “You’re nothing different,” she said. “You’ve always been a wolf, now you just know it.” She turned to me, her eyelids heavy. “Where do you think the fairy tales come from, Mr. Wolf?”
I’d never paid attention to the moon before, to any of that voodoo bullshit about tides and cycles and heavenly influences. I assumed that a full moon lasts one night, and technically, I guess it does—or even less. But it looks full for about three nights, and where lycanthropy is concerned, appearances matter.
The next night, I changed again.
I felt it coming on. I was lying in bed with the rest of the tequila when my skin started to prickle and pain shot through my head. I groaned. It was uncontrollable, this thing. I’d never felt like this, like a bystander in my own body. I thought of Heather’s periods, when she used to get cramps so fierce she had to take off work. It was like her body wasn’t hers anymore, like she was just along for the ride.
I lay on my bed and stared out the window while the pains went through me. I could see the moon about halfway up the sky, impossibly huge. Bruised and dirty. Sweat ran into my eyes. The moon was a face pressed to the glass, a fat old woman peering in.
I writhed on the bed, peeling off my clothes. The air stank of tequila and sweat. I got up and staggered through the kitchen to the front door. I’d looped a bicycle lock around the knob and locked it to a hasp in the wall, just to keep it closed—I hadn’t expected to turn again tonight. It was too loose, too feeble. I fumbled with it, trying to tighten the cable. My hands were wet with sweat. They were hairy. I felt a cracking sensation at the base of my spine, a series of punctures along my fingers and toes as the claws came out. I howled.
I woke up in darkness. For a minute I just lay there, my head on my hands, staring at nothing. I smelled dirt and engine oil. Something else. Something salty. There was an iron taste in my mouth. When I lifted my head, my face felt tacky.
I sat up. I was naked. Around me were big bulky shapes I couldn’t understand, until something clicked and I realized they were cars. Right in front of me was a wrecked Ford Taurus, its windshield cracked all to hell, its front end smashed like a dropped pastry. On the ground beneath it, some small bits gleamed white and red. I glanced at them, then away. Then back. I felt full. I was warm. I touched my face again, and felt the tackiness on my mouth and fingers.
I got to my feet and looked around. I was in a junkyard. My eyes went back to that glint of red and white under the front end of the Taurus. There was something caught in my molars.
It took me a couple of minutes to go over and look. I didn’t want to see what was there, didn’t want to pick it up. It was a bone. Don’t ask me what kind, what part of the body. It looked like a leg bone. It was bloody and there were a few shreds of… meat still clinging to it. My heart kicked up, a cold sweat broke out all over my body. I staggered a few steps toward the fence, thinking—I don’t know what. Thinking I had to get out of there. Thinking I was a murderer.
Then I saw it, on the ground a few feet away: A torn dog collar.
I dropped the bone and got all the way out through the hole in the fence to the sidewalk before I puked.
I went back to Heather. I know. I wasn’t her husband anymore. And she wasn’t my wife. She owed me less than nothing. But the junkyard where I chowed on the dog was in her neighborhood, and I was sure that wasn’t a coincidence. When I changed, something drew me there. Sooner or later I was going to wake up at her doorstep, and after that—maybe I’d wake up in her apartment. Full, bloody-mouthed. I wouldn’t be the first guy who went after friends and family when he turned into a wolf. And it wouldn’t be the first time I’d caused her pain.
“Martin,” she said, through the four inches of space between the door and its frame. “What are you doing here?”
It was four hours since I’d woken up in the junkyard. When I was done puking, I’d dug a pair of stained track pants out of a dumpster and high-tailed it home. No Madame Blavatsky, so I sat there alone, staring at my smashed front door and the mess of shredded porn magazines on the floor. The ceiling creaked as the neighbors walked softly across their floor. Faintly, I heard them whispering.
I sat until I couldn’t sit anymore, and then I took a boiling hot shower and ran a razor over my face. Now I was back on Heather’s doorstep in my own clothes. I still felt like an animal, but at least I didn’t have gristle in my teeth.
“I need help,” I said, in the most broken, pathetic, junked-out voice a man has ever used. “I’m sick.”
“Martin, you know there’s nothing I can do to help you.” She opened her mouth, then put a hand up to her lips as if she wanted to hold something else in.
She started to close the door. I put my foot in it.
“I’m sick,” I said again. “And I’m scared I’m going to hurt someone. And okay, yeah, you’re right about my dad.”
Her expression changed slightly, softened and went still.
“I just—” My voice broke and I had to stop for a second. “There’s got to be something I can do.”
There was something I could do; I could turn myself in to the police, who’d test me for the virus and when I proved positive, shuffle me into the public-health machine. I’d be issued an electronic ankle bracelet, a white jumpsuit, and my own steel cot in a concrete DPH ward out past the airport. I’d live the rest of my life stamping license plates and running a drill press, and once a month, I’d be locked in a steel cage and left alone to claw myself bloody against the walls. I’d read that the average life expectancy of DPH inmates was eighteen months. Suicide, mostly.
Heather didn’t tell me any of that. She just looked at me. I looked back at her, standing on her doorstep wearing the Sonic Youth t-shirt I used to wear back in college, when we both worked at the radio station. She pressed her hand to her eyes, and when she took it away she was crying for real, her eyes and nose pink and miserable. I stood there thinking, I cannot believe I fucked this up so bad.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so, so sorry, honey. I know this is all my fault.”
She took a breath and looked out past me at the street. “Yeah. It is.”
I put out my hand, hoping she’d open the door a little more and let me in, but she looked at it like I was trying to hand her a Bible. I dropped my hand and she took a deep breath.
“If you’re really serious,” she said. “About wanting help.”
“Oh God. I am. I really am.”
“I’m not kidding, Martin.” She leaned forward, studying my face as if she thought she wasn’t ever going to see it again. “I don’t know. I don’t think you’d do it. You of all people.”
“Whatever it is,” I said, trying for a smile, “it’s got to be better than eating people alive, right?”
Looking back, the weeks after that conversation feel both totally rational and completely insane. I still can’t decide. Did we adopt the only possible plan to save my life, and the lives of other people? Not to mention dogs? Or did we jump off a cliff with no idea where we were going to land?
In my worst moments, when I’m studying my naked body in the mirror, fingering the shy digit between my legs, I wonder if Heather had it in for me all along. If somehow she engineered the whole thing—the infection, the cure.
Sukhwinder, that morning we talked on Heather’s doorstep, was upstairs in the kitchen having tea and finishing up some homework. He was a student, Heather had told me. Of what, I hadn’t asked. Of veterinary medicine, I learned.
I sat on one of their hard vinyl kitchen chairs, held a glass half full of bourbon in my hand, and tried not to laugh or cry as Heather talked. The virus was part of me, part of my blood. There was no way to cut it out. But there was something else we could cut out, to make me less volatile. Less violent, less bloodthirsty, less aggressive. One little snip—well, two—and I’d still be a wolf once a month, but I’d be a hell of a lot calmer about it. I’d be the kind of wolf you could pack in a crate and store in your basement for the night with a peanut-butter-filled Kong for company.
I held my glass in my sweaty palm, turning it while they talked. Sukhwinder was a tall guy with skin the color of teak wood and a nose that looked chipped from slate. He wore loose linen pants, a beaded bracelet, and a blue turban. Sikh, I guess. I kept thinking, I’m going to get my balls cut off by a guy who’s never had a haircut.
I have to say, he didn’t seem excited about the idea. Heather kept saying that he’d be doing me a favor, he’d be saving my life, and he kept nodding and tapping his fingers on his textbook and not agreeing. At one point, she said, “Look, it’s simple. Just give him the Novocaine and hand me the scissors. I’ll do it myself.”
“Hey,” I said. “Whoa.” They both looked at me.
I left that day without anyone agreeing to anything, but Heather walked me to the door and hugged me. I fought hard not to cling.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said.
I remember a moment, walking home that day. Gray sky, cars speeding by, and up ahead of me, a couple of billboards advertising beer with girls in bikinis. Bronzed tits and flat bellies and big wide smiles, and I fished around for some kind of a feeling in response—but all I felt was sick. I remember wondering if that’s how I’d feel from now on, seeing the stuff that used to get me off. That used to make me feel like a man. If from now on, I’d just feel sick and feeble instead. I thought about going back to Heather’s, knocking on her door, and telling her not to worry about it.
Then I thought about waking up in the junkyard with dog meat in my teeth, and had to jam my fist in my mouth so I wouldn’t puke.
I’ve been a werewolf two years now. A wolf-man, I’d say—but am I still really a man? I guess from one point of view, you’re a man if you do the right thing, even if it’s hard. That’s the point of view I try to take.
Sukhwinder came around. And after the second month’s change, after I woke up next to a battered Volkswagen GTI on the fourth floor of a parking garage, its doors and windows covered in scratches from where I’d tried to claw my way inside to kill and eat the nice young lady crying in the passenger footwell—well, I came around too. I was a philandering asshole. I was a dog. I didn’t want to be a wolf.
Sukhwinder snipped me that afternoon, lying on a sheet on the living room floor of their apartment. I lay there while he pushed the needles into the big veins of my groin, I felt the sting and the deep, fading pain of the injection, and I thought, This is the last thing these balls of mine will ever make me feel. Heather knelt beside my head, stroked my hair, and turned the page of Sukhwinder’s textbook when he needed to see the next diagram.
I was doped up for the next few days, so I don’t remember much, but I know that when I started to change they lured me into an extra-large dog crate by tossing a pig’s ear inside. Heather says once I got in, I actually looked kind of relieved, as if the crate was what I wanted most.
I go there once a month now, when I’m due to change. Madame Blavatsky still gives me the hairy eyeball, and asks leading questions about my social life, my nightlife, what about all those ladies I used to bring home? What kinds of… precautions am I taking? She used to complain about the paper-thin walls, the sounds of acrobatic effort hammering through to her apartment at two in the morning. She watched me rehang my front door with great suspicion. But there’s nothing she can report me for. She goes to Peterson with her plumbing problems now.
Heather says she can still see me inside my two bodies. Me, Martin, the boy she fell in love with, lingering somewhere between the slack, chubby man and the sleek black wolf. “You look like you again,” she says.
She says someday soon she’ll open the crate door and let me out. She says I’m almost ready, she can see it in my eyes. In a few months, she thinks I’ll be able to lie beside her on the couch, put my head on her lap, and let her stroke my ears. And maybe someday I’ll wake up there, naked on the couch with my arms around her waist, and it will be almost like it was in the old days. Almost.