Thanks go out to the narrator for another powerful and emotional narration of my work.
“It’s so beautiful,” Jennifer said, staring into the fire. The orange flames leapt on the logs, the wood from the garage that had sat drying for so many previous winters. The fire popped and crackled.
“Yes, so beautiful,” I agreed. I smiled at her and clinked my wineglass against hers. She smiled back and all of the beauty in the world seeped into the room around her. We kissed and life was gorgeous.
The fire spat and sputtered and crackled and roared in the hearth. We watched the film network television had decided was the one we should watch that evening – Casablanca. Classic.
The night wore on and we cuddled on the couch and watched the closing credits of the film, as the closing credits of the darkening sky brought late evening into night. Jenny yawned and rubbed her hand against my knee beneath the afghan.
“I’m tired,” she said. “I’m going to go to bed, honey.” She got up from the leather of the couch our bodies had warmed.
“Okay my dear,” I said, leaning forward and kissing her on the lips again. “I’ll be right up after you. Just let the fire die out.”
She headed upstairs. The room was dark save for the dim orange glow of the fire. I opened the hot glass door with the poker, turning the handle on its brass side with the black end of the instrument.
I turned the pieces of wood which were breaking down into coals. This one, onto its back. This one, atop the other.
Suddenly I felt the air in the room grow cold, and then heard a roaring come from the chimney, the sound of the wind. The fire sputtered, then gained strength, then flared outward, larger and larger. The small orange flames grew bigger and turned bright red, then an acidic blue.
I backed away from the fireplace, confused – what was happening? The fire grew in strength and vigor, and from the blue depths of it I saw a ghostly spectre appear, then take form in the darkness of the living room. He was clad in a black cloak and his face was bones. In his hand he held an ancient scythe with a thirsty blade.
“What… what are you?” I stammered. This couldn’t be real. I was losing my mind.
“I’ve come for you,” he said, his voice permeating my reality. “Your wife shall sleep soundly tonight, but you will join me in hell.”
He swung his sickle.
I fell off the wagon again, but that’s not the point.
Do you know what it’s like, to struggle with addiction? It’s not easy. It’s so easy as someone on the outside to point fingers, to say that addiction is not really addiction, that it’s not a disease – that the problem drunks like me have is not the drinking itself but a weakness of character.
I fell off the wagon again and there was nothing to catch me.
“Susie,” I stammered, standing on the concrete stair of her building’s doorstep as the cold rain poured down around me. “I love you.” The cold wet of the rain trickled down my cheeks, around my mouth, mixing with the salt of my tears. “I love you. I love you more than anything and I haven’t stopped thinking about you since you told me I had to go.” I felt stupid now. I felt stupid standing here on the stoop of her building and pouring my heart out to her as the rain poured down around me.
“Thomas!” She was upset, livid. “Why are you doing this to me?! You can’t do this! You can’t show up like this and say these things after all those horrible things you did to me. Get out of my life! You need to go. Go! Now!”
I knew she was right. I knew that the past was the past and I needed to get on with my life. But that didn’t stop me from swinging the bat I’d hidden in my jacket hard towards her head, and hearing the sickening crack it made when the aluminum connected with her skull. I watched her crumple onto the steps of the stoop.
The rain poured down all around us and I dragged her limp body back to the car. I drove on into the night, far outside of town, far away from the city lights and all the claustrophobia they induced.
My shovel bit into the wet earth, and made a scraping sound. Still the rain poured. I noticed, almost in passing, that I was soaked to the skin and cold. I looked at her crumpled body next to me, laying in a heap. I thought about all the feelings I had over the years, about all the things I’d wanted to tell her but never could, until that moment the aluminum bat connected with the bone of her skull, but by then it was too late.
My shovel bit into the earth again. Some feelings are best left where they belong, buried far beneath the surface. I pitched a clod of wet earth aside.
Some things are better left buried.
“I’m afraid things don’t look good,” I said, laying out the paperwork on the glass of the low table. Death sat across from me, stolid, leaned back in the leather chair. Smoke poured out from the dark depths of his cloak’s hood from the Malboro he was smoking.
“I hired you because you’re the best,” said The Reaper. “You gotta fix this for me. I’m busy. I’ve got work to do. I don’t have time to put up with this bullshit.” His voice was low and dark. He scared the shit out of me but I knew what I was getting into when I took this job – and the payoff was going to be tremendous if I could pull it off.
“I’m aware,” I said. I took my pen out of my jacket’s inner pocket and clicked it. “But they have a strong case against you. They have all your paperwork, your tapped emails from after they got the warrant, and record of all your phone calls – including the 2 AM ones with your insurance agent and those with your ahem associate from uptown New York.”
“Those could be anything.” Death ashed his cigarette in the brass tray on the table. “How is that a strong case?” He leaned back in the chair again.
“Are you even listening to me?” Careful, Morris. Think about who you’re dealing with. “Death, think about how these things look. You know, not just evil but the appearance of evil? It all looks fishy. If they get the legal clearance to get the recordings of your phone conversations we’re dead in the water.”
“Whatever,” Death said dismissively. He lit another cigarette and it disappeared into the blackness of his cowl in his bony hand. I could see the red ember glowing in the darkness.
“Those things will kill you, you know. ” He blew smoke across the table and into my face. “Death, this is serious. You’re on trial for insurance fraud.”
“I’m aware,” his voice became harder. Another cloud of smoke from beneath the hood. “It’s a white collar crime. Even if they prove I’m guilty, what are they going to do? Slap me with a fine? 5 years probation?”
“Death,” I was becoming agitated. My neck felt hot beneath my tie. “We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here. You took out insurance policies on thousands of people and then were the instrument of their demise by the ways that paid you out the most. How could you be so reckless? If we don’t get a not guily verdict they’re going to throw the book at you.”
He chuckled. “Let them try.”
“Death, you will go to prison,” I said, trying to impress the gravity of the situation on him. He was such a child. So impetuous. So careless. “For life.”
“I doubt it.” More smoke from beneath the hood.
“You will. And do you know what that is for you?”
“What?” I heard concern in The Reaper’s voice for the first time.
“Eternity. You’re immortal. You’ll be in prison for the rest of time. Who will keep humanity in order? Who will collect the souls of the dead?”
“They won’t convict me,” Death said, assured of himself. “They wouldn’t dare. And it doesn’t even matter if they do. I got a guy to cover for me.”
The stupid ghoul wasn’t even looking at the paperwork. I gathered it up into my attaché.
“Look, if you’re not going to take this seriously, I’m going to go. My time is valuable too you know.” I got up from the seat, fuming.
“Suit yourself,” Death blew more smoke into the cold air of the room. “I’ve got other lawyers.”
I left the room, my mind spinning. Death was the hardest client I’d ever worked with. I took the elevator down to the open high-ceilinged lobby and walked out toward the revolving door. My phone vibrated in my pocket. As I walked through the door, I saw my new text message:
DEATH: Pleasure working with you
I felt cold. I stepped out of the door and looked up straight above me, just in time to see the falling piano.
“I don’t wanna go in there,” Johnnie said, gesturing toward the dark hedges. “I don’t care if he gives out the best candy every year – Old Man Jameson is creepy.”
“Awww, come on ya scaredy cat!” Mikey teased. “You scared of the dark? Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat!” Mikey was dressed as a Roman gladiator. He had real leather sandals his Mom had made him, but the storebought plastic breastplate he wore was too large and sagged past his waist.
“Yeah, come on Jonnie! Don’t be a girl!” Samantha giggled, hitting him with her goodie bag. Samantha was a princess this year, clad all in pastel purple, in a conical veiled cap and long flowing gown.
“Alright, alright,” Johnnie relented, pulling the drooping edges of his bedsheet up from the ground – he was a ghost. “Let’s go.”
The children walked in through opening in the dark hedge fence, toward the old wooden door of Old Man Jameson’s house. The building was ancient, the exterior made of large round stones set in concrete; it was more of a cottage, really. The walkway toward the chipping red paint of the front door was uneven cobblestone, upheaved into disorder by the frozen ground of many winters past.
“Oh my god,” Samantha said, her voice wavering. “This is soooo creepy.”
Old Man Jameson was always known for his elaborate Halloween decorations. The children glanced around nervously as they progressed towards the door – the gladiator, the princess and the ghost – at the unsettling lifelike quality of the horrors on the display.
Child mannequins in costume, not much larger than the children themselves, were set in lifelike poses around the yard. Here, a boy dressed as a tiny policeman, his eyes missing and streams of blood painting his cheeks red. There, a girl in a costume as fairy, her frail paper mache wings distressed and body eviscerated. Another mannequin was a boy not much bigger than Johnnie, dressed as a Viking. A horned plastic helmet sat on his tiny cranium at a funny angle, and the fake flesh on his face was peeling from the skull underneath. All so lifelike.
“Come on, let’s get our candy and get out of here already!” Mikey said, no longer feeling like the brave soldier of his costume. The children gathered around the red door, and Samantha the swung the brass knocker.
RAP RAP RAP
“TRICK OR TREAT!” The children yelled.
Old Man Jameson opened the door and it creaked eerily upon its aged hinges.
“Well hello!” he said, grinning toothlessly. “Happy Hallowe’en my little ones!”
“Happy Hallowe’en, Mr. Jameson!” Samantha chirped. The boys were silent and stared at the old man.
“Have some candy apples!” he said, and dropped the plastic-wrapped fruit into their open bags.
“Thanks. Happy Hallowe’en Mr. Jameson,” Johnnie said. He made to leave.
“Oh, but wait,” the other said, smiling at the children. His teeth were so yellow. “I just made some hot cider. Won’t you have some before you go? It’s an awfully cold night out there this year for October. It will warm you from the inside.”
“I dunno,” Johnnie said with hesitation. He remembered something his mother had said about strangers once, and felt like this might be that kind of something.
“Sure!” Samantha said gleefully, taking a cup of the hot steaming liquid the old man had decanted.
The boys followed suit, and sipped the cider. It was delicious.
“Good, good,” said Mr. Jameson.
“Ooooh, I feel funny,” Samantha said, raising her hand against her head.
The children collapsed into a heap onto the front step.
“Oooh, Old Man Jameson’s house!” said Billy, pulling his fur-covered cap down again. He was a werewolf this year. “Let’s go! He always has the best candy!”
“Aaaah I dunno,” said Steven, a bashful scarecrow. “He’s sooo creepy.”
“Come on you silly boys,” Jenny said. She was Barbie this year. Marcie, an evil witch in a flowing cape of shiny black plastic, followed her in through the hedge.
The children walked down the cobblestone of the path, past the lifelike decorations in the yard. Dead youth surrounded them in frozen poses: a miniature gladiator bloodied from battle with his left arm missing, a child ghost covered in a gore-smeared sheet, and a young princess dressed in purple cradling her severed head in her hands.
RAP RAP RAP
“Trick or treat!” The children squealed.
“Mommy I’m scared, there’s a monster in the closet.”
Jessie’s crying wakes me from my light slumber and I sit up against the headboard. She stands at the foot of the bed in the blackness, and I can see the moonlight seeping in through the blinds reflected in her tiny eyes: two drops of bright mercury dancing in the otherwise dark room.
“Honey, there’s no such thing as monsters.” I say, yawning. “You be a brave girl and go back to bed okay? You’ve got school in the morning and it’s late.”
“It’s Eyemouth mommy! Eyemouth was in my room! He’s tall and skinny and covered in black fur! He has long sharp claws and I heard them dragging on the floor of my room!”
“He’s got a big mouth where his face should be! And when he opened his mouth it was full of eyes! Hundreds and hundreds of eyes looking at me! He wants to eat me with his sharp teeth, Mommy! Don’t make me go back to my room! Eyemouth is in my room!”
“Jessie, there’s no such thing as monsters,” I say sternly, and sigh. “Go back to your room and go to bed. It’s just your imagination.”
Jessie heads back to bed and I lay against the warmth of the sheets. I fall asleep and awake again, to see the two beads of light in the darkness once more – the moonlight reflected in Jessie’s tiny pupils.
“Honey, are you still scared? I told you there’s no such thing as monsters.”
Slowly, the two dots of reflected light are joined by hundreds of others.
I am the wolfman.
The full moon rises to its apex in the night sky and I feel its power overtake me, consume me, engulf me, making me change. My human mind is overtaken by that of the animal. As my bones crack and grow and my skeleton reshapes itself, I feel the monster inside taking over. Taking control. The coarse dark hair of the wolf sprouts from my skin and grows longer and thicker. The pain is excruiciating as the bones in my face crack and sever, then elongate, and my human visage stretches out into a snout. My muscles thicken and stretch. My body contorts into a hunched form. The nails on my fingers and toes sprout into long claws.
I feel the carnal instinct inside overtake me completely. The full moon instills the want to gorge on human flesh. The craving to eat. The need to hunt.
I am the wolfman.
I run from the alley into the street and spot prey: a woman, walking alone beneath the faint orange umbrella of streetlamp light.
“What the hell? Hey, stay back! I’ve got mace!” In seconds I am upon her. I pounce and slash at her face with my razor-sharp claws. She collapses beneath my lupine muscle and I plunge my teeth into her neck. Oh, the kill! The wolfman feeds!
“Somebody! Help! Get this psycho off me! Help! Help!”
I am uncontrollable. I am savage. Enraptured in the glory of the kill, I am in a frenzy. I bite her again and again and she screams out. Then slowly her cries become weaker as the strength leaves her. I tear into her with my yellow fangs and devour her flesh. My nose is wet now with her warm blood. I drag my kill into the darkness of the alleyway to feast.
Hunched over her lifeless body in the gloom, I hear another sound from behind me. A shrill sound. Sirens. Suddenly light floods the alleyway. A car stopping. Doors slamming.
“Sir, put your hands in the air and step away. We have drawn our weapons and will not hesitate to fire.”
I turn and am illuminated. The blood in my mouth runs down my canine jaw. Crouching over my kill, I ready myself to pounce. I growl.
“Sir, put your hands in the air and get down on the ground. We will not hesitate…”
My growl rises and I spring. Explosions. Hot stabbing trails of pain tearing through me. I let out a howl, one long last high-pitched howl, the aroooooooooo of the victorious hunting wolf. I fall backwards to the ground and the last sight I see is the beautiful full moon hanging in the sky.
I am the wolfman.