Jonathan Dryden’s red popsicle was melting. It dripped through his fat fingers, and when he wiped them on the front of his faded old tee shirt it looked like blood streaks. Jonathan probably did that on purpose, though. Jonathan always did weird stuff like that.
“Tell them the werewolf story, Jonathan,” said snotty little Randy Bates, who had been following Jonathan around for most of the summer. “Jonathan saw a werewolf last year, guys.”
Jonathan smirked and puffed out his chest a little bit as he tossed his popsicle stick on the ground. “Yeah, I saw a werewolf all right,” he said, staring at each one of us, one by one, to make sure we were paying attention. “I saw a werewolf right over there on the ball field by the tree line.”
Millie Grovers gasped. Millie Grovers was a drama queen. “Oh no, Jonathan! Really?”
“Oh yeah.” Jonathan grinned. The corners of his mouth were chapped and stained red. “It was real big, too. Like, 700 pounds. I dunno. Probably more like 900. And it chased me.”
Randy and Millie both exclaimed “Nuh uh!” at the same time. Even shy Nicky Dickson,who had barely said three words since the first day of camp, looked up from From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler.
“Yuh huh. That sucker chased me right into the woods, and it almost got me. It got so close that it bit a hole right through my shirt. But then, I defeated it.”
Millie sat so far forward that I was positive she was going to fall right off the canteen steps. “How?” she breathed.
“Well, I grabbed a tree branch and I smashed it into the side of its head. And then, its head came right off.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. I laughed very loud. It just slipped out. Jonathan glared at me through squinty eyes, obviously trying to make himself look scary.
“Why are you laughing, Angie Man-gie?” he sneered. “You don’t believe me?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I guess,” I said, staring down at my popsicle stick and wishing I could sink right down into the grass and disappear.
“Yeah, Man-gie. You don’t believe him?” Randy teased, which sounded ridiculous coming from his weasley little face.
Jonathan was so dumb. Of course I didn’t believe him. I bet no one believed him. But we couldn’t ever say that we didn’t believe him. If we dared, we'd get pounded with dodge balls and smacked on the back with wet towels and tripped in the dinner line so that our trays splattered everywhere.
“Well, I mean, I do, but I didn’t think werewolves were real,” I stuttered. “My dad said-”
“Your dad doesn’t know shit.” Jonathan whispered the swear word and then glanced over our heads to make sure none of the counselors heard it. “Werewolves are so real, and there are a lot of them in the woods around camp, and I almost got killed by one.”
“No, you didn’t,” Nicky Dickson said softly.
Jonathan whipped around to face Nicky. Millie and I both gasped.
“What did you say, Dicky Dick Dick?”
Jonathan stood up and took a few steps towards Nicky. Nicky put his book down and also stood. He was a good six inches taller than Jonathan but he was also pretty skinny and wore thick wire glasses, which made him a nerd. And because he was a nerd, he was also a prime target for punching. But Nicky didn’t look scared at all. He actually looked sort of curious, like when your parents are trying to think of reasons that you need to eat your vegetables before you get dessert.
“My name is Nicky. Not Dicky. And I said that you didn’t see a werewolf, and you didn’t outrun a werewolf, and you didn’t take off a werewolf’s head.”
Nicky folded his arms across his chest and glared at Jonathan. Oh man. Nicky was definitely about to get punched. I looked over at Millie and Randy. They both stared at Nicky as if he’d just farted in church.
But then Jonathan did something very un-Jonathan-like. He laughed. He actually laughed.
“Oh yeah? You think I’m lyin’, Dicky?”
“No, I don’t think you’re lying.” Nicky paused for a second. “I just don’t think it was a werewolf.”
“And what makes you so sure?” Randy sneered from the background.
“Well,” Nicky said as he pushed his glasses up his nose. “For one thing, werewolves aren’t real. Wolves are real, but werewolves aren’t. And even if they were, you don’t kill a werewolf by cutting off its head. You have to shoot it with a silver bullet.”
When Nicky talked, he sounded like a grown up; like a real live scientist.
Jonathan took a few steps backward. “Yeah, well, maybe I lied about that part. Maybe I didn’t really take its head off.” He turned around and shrugged. “Sorry, guys. I didn’t wanna scare you. The truth is, I punched it in the face, and then it ran away.”
Millie gasped so loudly that it made me jump. We all turned, and as soon as all eyes were on her, Millie covered her face with her hands and began to fake sob. “Oh, no,” she wailed through her hands. “That means it could still be after you, Jonathan!”
Jonathan put his chubby arm around Millie. I could see the yellow pit stains on his tee shirt. “It’s okay. Don’t worry. I can fight it again if it comes back.”
Nicky picked up his book and began to walk down the canteen steps towards the boys’ cabins. “A werewolf can only come out when it’s a full moon,”
Jonathan followed him. “Hey, Dicky. Hey. Counselor Ryan said that tonight is a full moon. Why don’t we all go out in the woods and I’ll prove that there’s a werewolf? Or are you too chicken?”
Randy, Millie and I froze. I stared at Jonathan and Nicky in disbelief. There was no way that anyone could sneak out to the woods without getting caught. No. Way.
Nicky kept walking. Maybe he didn’t hear Jonathan. Maybe he didn’t care. But then, Jonathan started the bawk bawk bawk noise. He flapped his icky fat arms in the air. Finally Nicky stopped and turned around.
“Okay.” he said.
Jonathan hesitated just long enough for me to notice. “Okay, what? You’re a chicken?”
Nicky smiled and shook his head. He had to be the bravest nerd in the world. “No, I mean, okay, let’s go out to the woods tonight. I want to see a real werewolf.”
Jonathan looked sideways at Randy, who in turn looked like he was just about to pee his pants. After a few seconds, he said, “Fine. Everybody meet at the tree line after lights out. I’ll prove that I ain’t a liar."
I waited a long time after Counselor Megan called for lights out. I’m not a scaredy cat, and of course I knew that werewolves weren’t real. I mean, duh. But I didn’t like breaking rules, and I really didn’t like getting in trouble. But then again, did I really want another three whole weeks of Jonathan calling me Man-gie and throwing bits of mushed banana in my hair at lunch? After debating with myself for a while, I finally pulled on a Camp Sweet Valley sweatshirt, grabbed my sneakers and trust pink flashlight and tiptoed to Millie’s bunk.
“Millie,” I whispered.
Nothing. I shook her shoulder.
When she fluttered her eyes, yawned and rolled away from me, I knew she was faking. I was pretty sure that at breakfast in the morning she'd pretend to be all mad at me for not waking her up. Oh well. We were never going to be best friends anyway. Girls like Millie were so annoying.
I was amazed at how pretty the camp looked at night. There was definitely a full moon, and the way it reflected off Lake Jean reminded me of a painting that I saw in a museum once. Honestly, the full moon was so bright that I didn’t even need my flashlight, but I turned it on anyway. It made me feel safer.
Randy and Nicky were waiting by the woods. Nicky looked as bored as Randy did terrified. Jonathan paced back and forth at the tree line doing weird ninja kicks. He was still wearing his popsicle-stained shirt, and he didn't have a sweatshirt on even though the night had gotten very chilly.
"Jonathan, aren't you cold?" I shivered.
Jonathan looked over at me but continued his moves. "I never get cold. Ever. Not even in a snowstorm."
“Where’s Illie Millie?” Jonathan asked as he pretended to karate chop my face. “She too scared?”
“I guess,” I shrugged.
Randy glanced nervously at the woods. “You guys are gonna be so sorry you doubted Jonathan.”
“Nice flashlight, Man-gie,” Jonathan said in a sing-song voice.
I shivered. “My dad got it for me when we went camping last year.”
“It’s really dumb,” Jonathan said. His voice was flat.
There was a pause, and I realized how loud the woods were with the crickets and creaking branches.
“Well,” said Nicky as he pulled on his windbreaker. “Let’s get going.”
Nicky and I stepped toward the woods, but Jonathan stayed put. His face was scrunched up like he was thinking real hard about something.
Finally, he said, “Hang on a minute. I have to finish warming up.” He turned again and continued his weird air kicks.
“Hey, I know karate too, Jonathan,” Randy said as he held up his fists. “My dad teaches karate at the YMCA. He’s a brown belt.”
Jonathan kicked harder. “Yeah, well I’m a black belt. I didn’t even take lessons. I learned on the streets. Street fighting is way harder than karate.”
Randy looked a little hurt, and he stopped what he was doing to watch Jonathan. “It takes a lot of years to get a black belt, Jonathan. My dad practiced for years and years.”
Jonathan stopped, too. “I know that, Randy. But I bet your dad never had to actually fight anybody.”
“‘Cause I did. I fought a grown up. My mom’s boyfriend Scott.”
Jonathan gave a final kick into the air. “He was beatin’ up my mom, and I punched his lights out. He got some good swings in, ‘cause he was on drugs and all, but I kicked his ass. Mom was really mad at me for it. She didn’t let me back in the house for two whole days 'cause Scott was real scared of me and left, and then we didn't have any money but I didn’t care. Nobody ever gonna mess with me or Mom.”
We were silent for a really, really long time. I stared at my sneakers; white Tretorns with blue plaid stripes that my mom bought me at Ames.
“You know,” Nicky finally said. “I don’t think this is a good idea. I mean, if we see the werewolf…”
“I’ll punch it in the face, and then you guys run,” said Jonathan, his voice loud and even and brave.
Nicky shook his head. “No, Jonathan. Then it will bite you, and you’ll turn into a werewolf, too. Besides, we don’t have any silver bullets.”
"Yeah," I added. "You'd be really scary if you turned into a werewolf. Nobody would come to camp anymore 'cause they'd be too scared."
I felt Jonathan staring at Nicky and me through the darkness.
Then he chuckled.
“Nah, you’re just chicken. But okay. If you’re too chicken to go into the woods, we don’t have to. Scaredy cat baby Dicky dick dick. Scaredy cat Angie Man-gie.”
Randy sneered as we headed back across the field to the cabins. “Yeah, baby Dicky. Angie Man-gie. Told ya you’re all scaredy cats.”
"I guess you did,” I yawned. “I guess you did.”