MJ Gardner
Dark Fiction

Howl

"So you want to know?" He tips his head back and chuckles softly. Laughs in a way that makes you think, maybe he is a wolf.

You look around the coffee shop. Is anyone watching? Listening?

"If you want to know I'll tell you. Why not? You already think I'm crazy. Go ahead, ask your questions."

"Well, does it hurt? I mean, when you transform...?"

"Sure it hurts. Like any life-change, any birth. But, you know, it's a necessary pain. You have to go through it, and you know if it hurts that the right thing is happening. It's over quick and then, there you are, ready to howl at the moon."

"You don't really howl at the moon, do you? I mean, that's just in movies and stuff, right?"

"If wolves howl at the moon, so do I, man." He takes a sip of his coffee and sucks it from his dark moustache.

"So what do you do when you're a werewolf--"

He frowns, pulling two bushy, dark brows together into a solid line. "I don't like that term. I am a werewolf, okay, but either I'm a man or a wolf. I'm never both at once. So if you want to ask me about being a wolf, say wolf, don't say were. And if you say dog, I'll have to kill you." He laughs again and you feel a chill down your spine as if he'd howled.

"Okay. When you're a wolf, what do you do? You ever killed anyone?"

"Killed anyone? Aw, man, where you been? Don't you know that predators are cool? That they only kill for food, and only as much as they need. Did I ever kill anyone! What would a wolf do that for? Humans are pretty big, you know, and besides, they tend to stay out of our territories, and we stay out of theirs. I ever kill anyone," he mutters again. "Sheesh!"

"Well, okay, so what do you do when you're a wer-- a wolf?"

"Run with the pack." He grins, showing you sharp white teeth. "Feel the freedom of four legs and the wind. Nothing like it as a human. But then, being human has it's advantages too. Sometimes opposable thumbs are really nifty."

"There's a pack?"

"Course there is. You think I'm some lonely misfit with no family? Come on! You got some Victorian, Gothic ideas about 'monsters' in your head, don't you? We're all lonely and misunderstood. It ain't that way. I'm not lonely; I got family: the pack. I'm not misunderstood 'cause I'm not seeking understanding. I don't need no one's approval."

He sits back and waits for the next question while you try to formulate it.

"Well, so, you run with the pack."

"Mm hm."

"And... you just run? What?"

"We play. We hunt. Yeah, we hunt. Rabbits and squirrels and... other little things...." His brow furrows with concentration, as if the memory is hazy. "And, you know, do wolf stuff."

"Wolf stuff." That makes you skeptical.

"It's hard for me to tell you. It's hard to know. You see, when I'm a wolf, I'm all wolf. I can't talk; I can't think like a human. I think like a wolf and I see things like a wolf and I understand things like a wolf. And the things I remember when I'm a human again don't always make sense. But then, the things I remember when I'm a wolf about being human don't make sense either."

"Uh huh."

He sees that you don't believe him and for a minute you think maybe this is not the guy you ought to be casting doubt on, because, wolf or not, he just might be crazy.

"You ever try to explain a watch to a dog?"

"A watch?"

"Yeah, you know, thing on your wrist there. You ever explain it to a dog?"

"Well, no," you say, picturing yourself trying to teach your aunt's yappy hairball to tell time.

"Why not?"

"Well... what would be the point? All they know is that it's dinner time when they hear the can opener."

"Exactly. Dog can't tell time. Dog doesn't understand enough geometry to understand how the circle is divided into hours or minutes. Can't read numbers. Now, imagine a wolf with a watch on his foreleg trying to understand why the human he was had this, what it was for, or why he shouldn't pull it off and leave it in the underbrush."

You notice he doesn't have a watch.

He sits back and sips his coffee. "So, you got any more questions?"

You mentally scratch your brain with an invisible hand. More questions? This guy is nuts, right? So why are you asking him questions? Just to see what he says?

"How did you become a werewolf? Were you bitten?"

He shakes his head. "Naw. Nothing like that. I think I was just born one. Don't know why. I just always had it inside me, and then, one night, I heard the pack calling to me."

"Calling?"

"Yeah. You know, howling at the moon." He grins with those sharp teeth again. "I heard it and I wanted to howl too. I wanted to run. And wanting it, that flipped some switch and I changed."

"Were you scared?"

"Naw. I knew it was right. I didn't know what was happening, but I knew it was right. Even the pain."

"Was it a full moon?"

He laughs, and this time it isn't threatening. "No, man, no full moon. I don't know how that got started, 'cept I can't go more than a month without changing...." He frowns. "I get restless. But no, there was no moon. It was cloudy. Truth is, I change when I want to, or when I hear another wolf calling, and if I want company, I call them."

"You can... whenever you want? Like, right here?"

He looks around. "Yeah, man, like I'm going to turn into a wolf here in the middle of the mall. No, I need privacy. You know, it's like trying to piss when somebody's watching. Can't do it."

"Are there hunters?" you ask in a confidential voice.

"What? Werewolf hunters? No. There are idiots with guns, occasionally. There are traps, which are worse. When you're upset or afraid it's hard to control the change. Sometimes you can't turn back; sometimes you can't help it."

You notice then how broad and hairy his hands are.

"If you only have a wolf's intelligence when you're a wolf, how do you turn back?"

"You just get tired of being a wolf. Change is more instinct than intelligence. You know, you get a real urge to use the TV remote, for which you need a thumb, and voila, there you are, naked and human again."

"You ever turn back into a human in a really embarrassing place?" you ask, laughing.

"No," he answers. He isn't laughing with you.

"Well, so, then I guess you like being a werewolf."

He shrugs. "It has it's difficulties. But I never thought about it in terms of enjoying it or not. It's just something I am, like being dark-haired or short."

You digest that for a minute and drink your coffee.

"Well, I have to run," he says, and throws some change on the table to cover the coffee.

"'Kay," you say. "Nice talking to you."

He nods and strides off into the mall crowd and you watch and wonder if you'll ever hear the pack calling to you.