The Werewolf – Donal Mosher

howl

My face is warm behind a latex mask, behind ripples of painted fur and hooked teeth that protrude from black, slavering jaws. Tonight, i’m a wolf. Rubbery gloves turn my hands into gnarled claws with long plastic nails. My neck is cold, though. The letter jacket I’m wearing doesn’t keep out the chill. Shivers tickle down my torso. My eyes are ringed in black grease paint, covering any flesh that shows around the wide wolf-sockets. I can feel cold air slipping into the mask and growing warm as it flows down my cheeks.

I’ve been out back, howling behind our trailer, for almost an hour now. I’ve practiced running at a crouch, tearing at the air as I go. I’m sure no one’s going to recognize me. I’ll be able to walk around town for once without getting hassled, maybe slip into the dance, maybe even go up to the party at the cemetery. I give one last howl and head inside to put on the finishing touches.

I’ve been out back, howling behind our trailer, for almost an hour now. I’ve practiced running at a crouch, tearing at the air as I go. I’m sure no one’s going to recognize me. I’ll be able to walk around town for once without getting hassled, maybe slip into the dance, maybe even go up to the party at the cemetery. I give one last howl and head inside to put on the finishing touches.

Late afternoon light floods our tiny kitchen, bathing my mother’s owl canisters, owl dish towels, owl plaques, and owl figurines in soft gold. I sit at the table putting “WET LOOK” blood on my mask while she struggles to make popcorn balls. She curses but I refuse to look up from my task. The blood is jelly thick and unfolds slowly from the tube. I take special care with the teeth, thinking how the gore will look when it hardens, shiny as a candy-apple shell over each white fang. I’d like to smear the stuff over the beaks of my mother’s owl canisters, then fill them with the bones of mice and moles.

I wait in my room while the mask dries, up on my top bunk, digging myself into the pile of comics, horror novels, and ninth-grade textbooks. I pull on one of my claws. The word lupine repeats itself—lupine, lupine—in my head as I scratch the paneling on the wall, testing the strength of the nails until the soft, wood-grain paper comes away.

By the time my mother drives me into town, the sky is like glowing smoke. She drives fast, hoping to be home before her first trick-or-treaters arrive. “Your father’s on patrol tonight, “she laughs. “Wouldn’t it be shitty if he had to give me a ticket?” Dark has settled as we come down from the hill, out onto the road that runs between stripped cornfields at the edge of town. A full, pumpkin-colored moon sits low and sideways above the bristly acres.

She drops me off at my great aunt’s home where I’m to cover myself in front yard leaves and lie in wait for unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. Aunt D. is on the porch, taping a sign that reads “Help Yourself, But Don’t Be Greedy” to a salad bowl full of candy. She’s in a floral-print shirt and lime-green stretch pants pulled high over her belly. Any comment on her taste in clothing meets with the same reply—”It’s the only excitement these parts get anymore.”

I’m not supposed to know this, but during WWII Aunt D. was the only whore in town. With the kind of business sense that runs in our family, she took up hooking just as the youngest and lustiest of the population were going off to be mangled on foreign shores. The whole family knows—the women pass the story on in the kitchen, the men pass it on over beer and football—but of course none of us is supposed to mention it. As she kisses my cheek I can smell that she’s been drinking, and I hurry off to wait on the lawn.

Cool damp soaks into my clothes as I lie waiting. Leaves crunch whenever I move. I hear children’s voices, but wait, wait, then leap up snarling and grunting. I’ve chased them to the sidewalk when my aunt calls out in a drink-thickened voice, “Hey dumb-ass, let ’em get their candy first.” Feeling foolish, I want to turn on her and say, “I know you sucked cocks back then. We all know you were a whore.”

Instead, I growl. With an apologetic tone she calls me over to the porch. “It’s cold out here,” she says, holding out a pumpkin-shaped mug with drooping eyes and a wide, far-too-happy smile. A black cat with the same, insipid grin perches on the handle. Its head tilts over the lip of the cup, peering down into the pungent contents. I lift the mask to take a long sip. I grimace, then bitter warmth softens and spreads to my belly. She looks at the heavy make-up around my eyes and lips. “You look worse with that thing off!” she says, touching my head before heading indoors. She leaves the mug on the porch.

The kids come and go, always shrieking and yelping when I jump up—even the older ones, girls and boys both, some of them my classmates. I love that! Aunt D. comes out to check on me. I sit beside her while she pours more whiskey into the cup. “You like it?” she asks, taking a sip for herself. “Good, but you won’t tell right? Your dad would kill me. There’s mint gum in the bowl, chew a mess of it before you get home.”

My head is spinning by the time I lie back down. The moon is high. I can feel it riding over the valley and the hills; over the town full of monsters, super-heroes and princesses; over the Remington smoke stack, where steam billows and falls in pale masses down the walls of the factory. Light dapples my costume. My stomach turns. This is the moment of transformation. I will sprout wiry hairs like wicked pubic grass all over my body, a body which has only recently achieved enough hair that I can be naked in the gym showers without shame. My skin will merge with the latex mask, creating the heaving, bubbling stuff of so many horror films, fake, fascinating, elongating tissue with a texture somewhere between flesh and chewing gum.

Leaves cling like small, dry hands as I rise up and creep toward the house. Time to hunt. I pad the hallway, following the TV flicker into the living room. But my victim is asleep, curled and sickly looking on the sofa. I take her dishevelled head in a claw and slide a pillow beneath. On the screen, a used-car salesman flourishes a cape and moans, “Prices so cheap they frighten me!” I nab the fifth of Jack Daniel’s from the end table, tuck the bottle into my jacket, and slip out the back door.

Monster in my own film, I imagine a soundtrack, shrill and sinister, rising up as I prowl the streets, crouching behind lamp-posts, sipping at the bottle, watching as the last trick-or-treaters compare the weight of their bags. I peek into windows, growl at classmates on their way to the dance, and hide whenever a police car comes down the street, getting tense pleasure from looking to see if my father is driving.

No one shows any sign of recognizing me. I even swipe the air, Lon Chaney style, at the kids who fuck with me, kids my father has arrested and who never miss a chance to pound out their vendettas on me. I spend my school days trying to avoid their attention, but watching them constantly. I like looking at them, despite the danger. Everything they do is belligerent and sexy.

But now, I get a couple laughs, a couple of the blank-faced nods that upstate kids use to show approval. I trot beside them as they head for the high school, wary they might turn on me, but letting my eyes linger on their faces and shaggy hair, their army jackets and scuffed jeans. At the school, we pause by the tall hedges that surround the gym. Above us, windows pulse with orange light from the dance inside. Someone asks, “Smoke now or up at the cemetery?” “Now, fuck-head,” comes the reply. “You want to share with everybody at the party?” They tuck themselves out of sight behind the hedges.

I bolt for the park across the street, where there are no lights: kids shatter them constantly, not only on Halloween. Small groups are already gathered in the dark stretches beneath the oaks and the rambling shrubs. From the spiny wings of a juniper, I can see two bodies stretched out on a blanket: a couple I’d seen earlier as they walked arm-in-arm toward the dance. She’s dressed as “Carrie,” all blonde hair and blood-soaked satin. He has no costume. In fact his pants are down. He is on top of her, his ass rising and falling, her legs pale and spread beneath him. Her stained gown is hiked up to her waist, and leaves are matted in the bloody mess of her hair. His hand gropes its way up to her breasts. “Dirty pillows,” he says and they laugh.

Again, I set ominous music to the scene. I picture her pushing him off angrily. “Really, I heard something. I think someone’s out there.” And his face shifting from frustration to terror as he sees my eye, yellow and candle-bright, in the bushes. Boughs rustle as I back away. Their breathy giggling stops. Juniper limbs pull at me as I run toward the edge of the park.

The dance will be letting out soon and I want to be off the streets by then. Now that I reek of Jack Daniel’s, I can’t call home for a ride. I’ll have to walk.

Darkness closes over the road as I leave the last streetlight behind. A siren howls in the distance—my father on the hunt somewhere. My shoulders pull together and I listen for the warbling signal to come my way, but the sound fades as I pass beyond the edge of town. I’ve only gotten as far as the cornfields when I hear a car behind me. I hop the ditch and tuck myself down. “Keep going,” I whisper, but hope whoever it is catches a glimpse of my face snarling among the remnants of the cornstalks. The car slows. A bare ass pokes from the back, then disappears as the car speeds off, leaving a lit cigarette spinning like a drunk firefly in the air.

They’re on their way to Crossroad Pond, to the cemetery party. I walk along making up vengeance scenarios—naked bodies torn apart in the midst of lovemaking, blood splattering tombstones and Budweiser cans, Robert Plant shrieking from a boom box with bits of gore clinging to its mesh speakers…. I’m so caught up in the carnage that I don’t notice that another car is coming. There’s no time to hide, so I stand aside and let it pass. The car goes only a bit ahead of me, then comes to a stop.

How perfect is this? The vehicle on the dark country road, the windows fogging, the unsuspecting victim waiting inside, opening the passenger door….

But when I reach the car, a familiar voice asks if I need a lift. The thin, sharp-eyed face of Mr. Hanley, the Humanities English teacher, smiles up at me.

Mr. Hanley is the only teacher in the entire school that I consciously allow myself to lust after. He has glasses, thin arms, and a deep, soft voice. He sits cross-legged while reading in the cafeteria. His triple-pleated pants hang loosely on his waist and his shirts are always coming untucked, revealing the waistband of his Fruit of the Loom® underwear.

“Going to the pond?” he asks, sliding folders and envelopes from the passenger seat to the floor. “I can take you that far.” I feel the whiskey returning to my system as I climb inside. The car is small, smells like meat, and, very faintly, cologne. He crumples a Burger King® bag and drops it atop his papers.

“At the dance?” he asks, as the car starts forward. Not wanting to give myself away, I say nothing. Surrounded by fields, the homes grow farther from each other and farther from the road. Porch lights leave the facades of houses hanging in the oily darkness. Occasionally the bright grin of a jack-o’-lantern shines from a doorstep.

“Trick or treating?” he asks, with a bit of challenge. I know he’s baiting me, waiting for my response. The scent of his cologne seems to be growing. I sneak a glance at him, quickly taking in how long his body is, how he has fold himself up to fit into the driver’s seat. “Okay, Michael Landon, you’re a teenage werewolf,” he says. “No more questions.”

The hills rise up on either side of the road. We are definitely in the wake of party-bound vehicles. Every mailbox we pass has been smashed. We pause at a stop sign, freshly spray-painted to read “STOP FUCKN W/ME.” He looks at me closely. He’s trying to guess who I am, I think, feeling his eyes travel over the costume. “That’s a good mask, “he says. “I wouldn’t want to meet that fellow in a dark alley.”

But a warmth spreads between my legs at the idea of meeting him alone in such a place. He’s terrified by the revelation of my bestial self, but stands facing me, braving my hot yellow eyes and bloody jaws, with his back to the cold, dead-end bricks. “I love you,” he says calmly and honestly, placing mortal hope in the words. “You know that.” I pause. Somewhere deep in the hunger and howl of my mind, I hear him, somewhere recognition begins to spread. But the moon slides from the clouds above us and, standing sad and pale in its light, he is nothing but meat to me. I spring forward, all bristle, all jaws, all appetite. There is a bang and a flash. A howl echoes off the bricks. At the back of the alley, police have arrived. My father is there, holding the gun that fired the silver bullet.

I take a breath to dispel the images. His scent floods back into the mask and my cock begin to harden. The sound of him shifting in his seat sends me into full, uncomfortable erection. As we crest a hill and begin down, I can see my parents’ trailer in the distance, so small it looks like some weird candy bar. I don’t want him to notice it or my grandmother’s shabby house across the road. He drives past without comment. The crossroads are not far off now, one more farm, a stretch of woods, and my ride will be over.

“Let me guess,” he says as the pond comes into view. “You’re going to sneak up the hill and scare the shit out of them.” He doesn’t expect an answer but kills the lights and slows the car just in case. We come to a quiet stop and sit in the darkness with the moonlight flooding our laps. The inside of the mask has grown very warm and damp. My hands shake, but the rubbery claws show none of this, remaining steady, sharp, and deadly on the seat cushion.

The pond sits at the foot of a pine- and ash-covered hill. Hidden in the trees is a small cemetery from the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Nearby are the crossroads that give the place its name. The water is dark and still, not even a rippling trace of the fat, rusty carp and the snapping turtles that swim there. Even in daylight the pond is murky; if you dare dip your hand below the surface, it seems severed at the wrist. Supposedly there are cars at the bottom. And of course there’s the story—if you stand at the crossroads at midnight, you feel the ghosts tugging at you. They say a boy was found on the far side, pulled through the water and drowned by ghostly hands.

He rolls down the window, letting in cold air and the faint sound of music. “I used to come here,” he says with a distance in his voice. “I guess everybody does.” He looks at me intently and I wonder if he has recognized me, or is he filling the space behind my mask with the memory of himself, a memory I could carry up the hill with me. It’s the thought of him young and drunk up there that makes me lean forward, as if to look out his window, and place my leg against his thigh.

Above the water, I can see light from a Coleman lantern, transparent and yellow among the trees. Shadows pass over the illuminated trunks. There are screams and laughter in the wind.

“Getting out?” he asks, moving away. I wait for a moment, then shake my muzzle at him. Beneath the mask, I push my teeth into my lip. My face is so tense it feels as if it were changing shape. The wolf is coming over me, and I stretch my leg a little farther.

I can see confusion in his face. His hand pulls away from the wheel and floats, fingers quivering for a second in the moonlight. They won’t touch me. I know this deep in my shaking body, but still I’m prepared to receive them. Instead, his fingertips hiss over the polyester pant-fabric as he grips his own leg—close, but not touching mine. “I could drive you home,” he says. His breathing has quickened and his face has sharpened. Against my leg, his thigh tightens and quivers. He, too, is changing shape. The mask ripples, edges curl at my neck as I nod slowly. I’m gonna howl, I think. He starts the car without asking directions and we are off, turning at the crossroads, out toward the loneliest pastures.

_______________________

Donal Mosher is a writer, photographer, and musician living in SF. He was raised in rural NC and NY, and his work documenting working class life in these regions is currently being shown in Portland, LA, and SF. Portions of this work can be found in the on-line archives at marjoriewoodgallery.com. He is currently working on a documentary film that examines the transmission of traditional working, drinking, and redemption songs through American class and culture. Donal can be reached via ghosttype at hotmail dot com.

Now available! Blue, Too: More Writing by (for or about) Working-Class Queers! Buy discounted copies directly from FourCats Press.

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