I'm about to abandon this project; I think the characters are underdeveloped, and the story's length will be under fifty-thousand words, essentially making this novella unsellable, since novellas generally are. I should be writing short stories so that I have some publishing credits to list on my query letters for Apophenia. Whatever Wolf's fate, here is chapter nine, the last chapter I've completed. Also, here's a link to Chapter Eight as well as previous chapters, if you care to read the whole thing.
I'm sitting on a deck chair, my respirator mask lying on the floor, the cloudy sky protecting me from the penetrating rays of the sun. Debra fixes dinner inside for Brittany, who keeps her mother company by relating various text messages sent by her friends. It's nice that she asks her mother's opinion; she hasn't quite reached that hideous age, Chastity's age, when no adult can convey basic reason to their progeny. She and I have not been doing so well, ever since “the incident” occurred, as Debra and I call it. My wife had her concerns, believe you me, but we have sorted them out. It's funny how sex can solve problems, since that hasn't been my experience in the past. But things are different now. Things have a way of taking care of themselves.
Mr. Karwoski (an alias, according to investigators) is the chief suspect in the killing of ten individuals, including the recent bar massacre. The knife found at the scene of my assault is the prime piece of evidence. Covered in ritualistic runes and dating to the sixteenth century, this weapon is emblematic of an occult piece; Mr. Karwoski may be only one of many, a harbinger of things to come. Predictably, a panic has seized our small town, with curfews being issued and police checkpoints becoming a regularity. The FBI has become involved; G-Men roam about, investigating our playgrounds, our seedy motels, our woods. So far, information regarding Mr. Karwoski is scarce; his vehicle had stolen plates, and all of his personal belongings hint toward a most disturbed individual, one possibly suffering from alcoholism and insomnia. Ronald and I cooperated with investigators to compile a sketch of his appearance. We are great heroes, Ronald and I, or at least Ronald is, truly. Somehow, being a victim turns you into a hero in the eyes of the public. During my brief hospital stay, I received many bouquets, enough that Debra started throwing them away. My reputation, damaged by my late night philandering, has seemingly recovered. My injuries suffered during Mr. Karwoski's assault, which include a concussion, a broken nose, a bruised jaw, and several cracked teeth, have quickly healed, much to the amazement of medical professionals. I've received two weeks of paid vacation from work, which I've spent outside, drunk or on massive amounts of uppers, in order to blunt my perception, to beat it down and subjugate it. I am horny, incredibly horny; I have no conscience, no feelings of remorse. Part of me believes that Mr. Karwoski was responsible for all those murders; the other half screams gibberish in my ear, the same three-word answer. I don't want to listen to anything. I am inconsolable, I suppose. Is this how an animal feels? No pity, only contempt for the prey, the walking dead, the sad-sack meatsuits rambling down the alleyway of their misbegotten world. Of course, it cannot last, but I find that I do not care. Who knows if they'll catch Karwosk; such an event is the future, a hypothetical place, a state of being that I am not capable of imagining any more. I live for the present; I am the present. I am the unquenchable thirst. I am a starving man in the desert. I am the wolf at the doorstep, who will be let in.
My father still lets himself in at night. I see him creeping through the window, his eyes mad, the look of drink about him, his clothes tattered as though he passed through knives and swords to get here. He never speaks, but that is normal. My father spoke through looks, through the sheer terror of his eyes. He communicated histories through those haunted, reptile eyes. I think I now know what my father did. We are both become nihilists.
In the woods, I hear something moving about, the brush crashing and cracking with its steps. I ignore it, as I do everything now. I will go out tonight; it is a night for roaming, for fighting, for blood to be shed. A pressure against my teeth; a tightness of the jaw; an expanse of sinews; the ever-present taste of iron. I am so fixated on my coming revelry that I don't hear Rob enter.
"Howdy stranger," he says, sitting himself next to me, his respirator dangling from his neck. "What a great day, huh?"
"A perfect day," I tell him. He puts a six-pack down in between us, and we grab ourselves a beer.
"You seem to be recovering nicely," he says.
"The psychological scars still linger," I respond. "Just kidding. I feel great. I feel like I could lift a mountain right now."
"Did you ever figure out ol' Hutch's journals?" he asks.
"Nonsense, rambling gibberish. They're not even written in English," I tell him.
"Yeah, I know." He takes a long drink of his beer. Somewhere in the woods, a bird lands on a branch and it snaps.
"Warm out here for nearly Christmas," says Rob. "Goddamn weather is just unfathomable. It's like a crap shoot. God's just pulling numbers out of a hat."
"Yeah," I say. I can smell Rob's nervousness, the sharp reek of fear exuding from his person. He looks back through the doors and then at me. "You seen any more of Jody?"
"Nope," I say, my mouth shutting tight.
"None of my business, of course. I'm not one to preach monogamy, though I think Debra is a fine woman. Just being nosey. Trying to look out for you."
"I think I'll be okay, buddy," I say, the words falling out of my mouth like stone.
"Those murders. They're real troubling. You think they'll catch him?" asks Rob.
"I don't know," I reply tersely.
"Can I ask you a question? Now I hope I don't offend."
"I can't promise to be not offended, but ask away." Hairs rise all over my person. I know what is coming; someone has pieced together the pieces.
"Why did he come after you, is what I want to know. Everyone else was killed during the night, and most of them female, except for that bar massacre. Seems strange that he would break into your house and attack you. What did Chastity say to the police? She was there, right?"
"She had nothing significant to add," I explain. Chastity hasn't been spending much time around the house after the incident, which of course bothers her mother. I'm not sure what she told Debra, other than we got into an argument.
"I see," says Rob. I look over at his sunburned face, his sandy hair poking out from beneath his sweat-stained ball cap. "What's the matter?" I ask.
"I feel like this is my fault," says Rob, getting up from his seat. "I took you out to the farm, took you hunting, told you about Hutch, let you fall into that cave. I didn't think any of it was true, the stories my father told. That cave is ancient. It was ancient before white men settled this area. The Indians used to sacrifice men in that cave, or so the stories go. They'd kill men with animal fangs while wearing the heads of wolves. You act like him now. Hutch. The philandering. The fighting. They way you healed. Just the way you move. I can see your goddamn ears twitching right now, Harry. There's hair growing out of them. Big, ugly tufts."
"I don't know what you're trying to tell me," I say.
“You're going to make me say it? Fine. I'll say it. You're a werewolf.” Rob gives me a look of utter seriousness. I give him a Jack Nicholson grin and shake my head.
“What am I supposed to say to such allegations?” I ask.
“Just admit it to me. Tell me I'm right.”
“You caught me. I'm the big, bad wolf. I huff and puff and blow your house down. Christ, Rob. Are you fucking insane? Werewolf? Werewolves aren't real. They don't exist. They're fiction. You don't need a silver bullet to kill me, buddy. Some crazy asshole nearly did me in, and you're telling me that I'm the murderer, that I'm to blame for all this madness. Goddamn it, Rob. I thought you were my friend. I guess I need to trim my ear hairs. Jesus.” I get up from my chair and go to the railing. It looks out at me, the beast, a shaggy fuck-knows-what. Eyes like the moon. Claws like the teeth of a dinosaur. Ooze dripping from its gigantic jaws. The outline of the woods shades it, giving the thing a tremulous outline. It is not substantial. I don't know what is any more.
“I'm sorry, Harry,” says Rob. “I saw things as a kid that I've never forgotten. You want to think that these memories aren't true. You want to deny it. They'd have you deny it, these people out here in this enclave. Something in you tells you that what you are perceiving isn't true. Perception is all we have, however. I can't see the world with the eyes of another man. I saw Hutch turn into a wolf one night. I woke up and something pulled me towards my window, and there he was, standing in the front yard, a naked man beneath the light of the full moon. I watched as the hair grew on his chest, as his jaws elongated, as the claws sprouted from his fingernails. I don't know what he wanted that night. Maybe it was my mother. Maybe it was me. I know my dad did something to him, something that either drove him away or killed him. He could be buried out there for all I know. Maybe he's in that cave.”
“Are you threatening me?” I ask, turning toward Rob.
“I know, Harry. It's not your fault. But we got to do something about it, or more people will die.” Rob gets up from his chair, walks toward me, his big hands hanging at his sides like meat hooks.
“You going to take me to the farm, put me down like Ole Yeller?” I ask. Rob doesn't reply. He just looks at me with his plain expression, his hillbilly face stoic, implacable, a stone wall.
“Can I get you anything?” asks Debra, opening the screen door. “You boys should come inside. The sun is lifting. You don't want to get cancer.”
Rob shakes his head. “Just leaving,” he says. “Only had to say a few words to Harry here.” He stares at Debra for a moment and then glances at me. I know what he's saying: She could be next. It's not as though I haven't considered the possibility, the horror of it. Something sits on my emotions like a smothering pillow.
“Talking about man stuff?” asks Debra.
“Rob was just telling me bedtime stories. He's got a good imagination. Very creative,” I say. I watch his pickup pull out of the driveway. “I need to go out tonight.”
“I thought maybe you'd stay in, watch a movie,” she says. Already the moon peeks out from behind the clouds, a cratered white eye.
“I need to go on a drive. Put my mind at ease,” I say.
“We were doing so good, Harry. Ever since your accident.” We watch as Chastity's boyfriend drops her off in front of the house, music throbbing from his vehicle. We get a good look at him as he leans out the window. A twisted baseball cap. A leering sneer. Arms covered in tattoos. Here is an object worthy of destruction, a focal point for energies that must be released. Can't even see his eyes, for they are covered by sunglasses, large rectangular shades. Compound eyes; the eyes of an insect, something that views the world through incomprehensible lenses. I find myself moving forward but the car pulls away, leaving tire tracks in the drive. Chastity flees for the house, ignoring me. Debra goes back inside and tries to catch her before she locks herself in her room. I can hear them arguing through the impenetrable walls of our home. It doesn't matter. My nostrils twitch, picking up his scent. The problem won't fix itself, and I've always dealt with my own problems. I hop in the car, turn the ignition, back out of my drive. Through the sunroof I see it peering through the clouds, my father's eye, a great lidless orb watching me weave through the roundabouts and cul-de-sacs, shining pale light on my trembling frame, no mercy, no feeling in its gaze except for rage, blind, idiot anger. My erection strains against my pants; I have to pull over and attempt to control my breathing, the heat boiling over, leaking down my face and exaggerating my veins. I'm not far enough away—this was the great fear, the one I ignored—but now there is nothing to do but exit the vehicle and run, run, run, shedding my clothes as I sprint over the walls of the enclave, just making it before my consciousness slides into the back of my skull, its mask finally removed, all illusions of control surrendered, my fate determined like all of theirs, all of them, walking meat, soft flesh sauntering down the aisles of despair, puppets, automatons, cattle, food. My last thought is to snatch an antacid from my pocket. The things we eat.