I woke up to a warm body in my bed. It was Billy. He looked up at me in his spider-man pajamas and he said “DAD I’M SO SORRY BUT THERE IS A GOD DAMNED WAREWOLF LIVING DOWN THE STREET.”
Billy was my shy kid. All he wanted to do was read. Molly, the mother of my kids, had ended up in alcohol rehab three months ago. We decided the boys and I would move to Florida while she finished treatment in North Dakota. The situation was terrible for both the boys, but especially Billy. He was terrified of strangers.
I said, “First of all I don’t like you using that language, and second there are no such things as warewolves, so go back to bed right now.” It was 4 am.
But he wouldn’t move.”I knew Florida would have warewolves and now I know it’s true,” he said. He was terrified. He’d peed in his pajamas. So we changed his clothes in the dark trying not to wake up Jack and then he laid back down with me. “Everybody is so weird here,” he said. “Everybody is going to hate me at school.”
“People are different everywhere. But there’s nothing weirder about Florida than North Dakota.”
“Yes there is. It’s the weirdest place ever. Everybody’s a freak in Florida and I hate it. I’m never going to make friends. I want my old school and my old room.”
I was hoping he’d just fall asleep. But every time I looked over I could see him, just laying there in the dark, looking up at the ceiling.
“Who told you there was a warewolf next door?” I said.
“I didn’t freaking get told by anybody,” he said. “I saw it myself. I’m really sorry about taking God’s name in vain but I think it’s just really important that you know we’re in danger. I know you and Mom are going to get a divorce and I freaking hate it.”
“It’s probably just a really hairy guy, Billy. Not a warewolf.” He had surprised me with the divorce talk, although he was right. I didn’t think our marriage would survive her drinking much longer. More important than the drinking was that we’d just grown apart. At least she had the sense to tell me she didn’t think she could care for the boys, that she wanted me to take them. I wanted to be a good dad to them.
“Nobody is that hairy,” Billy said. “He had claws. Bucky told me there would be warewolves in Florida. Now I know for sure.”
“Bucky Thompson repeated the fifth grade twice and his teacher only passed him by 51% because she couldn’t stand to deal with him anymore. He’s not that smart.” All the teachers had been talking about it in the middle school where I had worked in Bismarck.
“Where did you learn to talk like that,” I said.
“Jack taught me and he said only use that word if it’s really serious,” he says. “I was trying to get your attention. And I freaking miss Mom.” I could tell he was starting to cry.
“There’s no such thing as a warewolf,” I said, again. I knew the boys needed to talk about Molly but I wasn’t in the shape for it, either.
“There is such a thing and he just left his house and got the mail. I watched him do it. That’s when I saw him.”
“I tell you what. When the sun comes up we’ll go and knock on his door. We’ll meet our neighbor and say hi and I’ll show you-”
“No way!” he cried out and his blond head went below the covers again.
By this time Jack was up and I knew if he saw Billy crying he’d tear him to pieces. So I told the boys we were going to get doughnuts and bring the warewolf some. I figured I would just show them it was OK, that way. They were really just scared about their Mom, after all.
“Warewolves eat cows and sheep,” Billy said. ”Not doughnuts. It’s not gonna work.”
“The warewolf is going to eat your butt,” Jack said, catching on to Billy’s anxiety level.
“Florida warewolves are vegetarians,” I said, trying to tone the issue down. “Vegetables and doughnuts.”
It didn’t seem to satisfy anybody. I had to force Billy into the car. But Jack was fascinated. He wanted to go over without the doughnuts, right away.
“I’m going to shoot it,” he said. “With a silver bullet. Like in the movies.”
“Nobody is shooting anybody,” I said.
“Can we poison the doughnuts,” Jack asked.
“No,” I said.
We drove out of the subdivision in my Honda and found the doughnut place. I still had to get used to palm trees, sunlight, air conditioning in October. I kept telling myself it was the right place for the boys.
Sugar and fried food seemed to make everybody feel better. We argued for a minute over what kind of doughnuts a warewolf would eat, and settled on strawberry for some reason.
I stopped in the road in front of the house down the street, when we came back to the subdivision. “That’s the one,” Billy said, “the one that the warewolf came out of!” It was a tall brick building with two floors and front facing columns. I told the boys I’d walk up and leave the doughnuts. If whoever lived there seemed friendly maybe I’d introduce them to the boys.
But then I realized my mistake. It wasn’t a house at all. It was old, cracked up. I saw why it scared Billy. There was moss and mold growing on the walls. All the lights were out.
I peered through the windows and felt terrible about what happened. It must have been a group home for the developmentally delayed. Now I understand why Billy had gotten confused. He didn’t know what a handicapped person could look like. You could tell it was a group home by looking in the windows. Most of them had really thick blinds but one was uncovered.
It was hard to see clearly inside. I could see people on the inside that looked like they were crawling around. No one had ever told me there was a facility like this in the neighborhood.
I knew I should probably have been teaching my kids about diversity in a better, more modern Dad sort of way. Definitely I did not want my children thinking that handicapped people were werewolves or monsters. But at the moment all I could think about was how awkward I felt standing in front of a group home with doughnuts in my hand. I didn’t want to be noticed.
So I ducked back in the car pretty quickly. I had come up with a better idea.
“Boys, you were right, there IS a warewolf,” I said.
“I knew it!” Billy said.
But I stopped him before he got too panicky. “The people that live there know all about him,” I said. “They want you to know they’re going to be on the lookout too. And that he actually loves chocolate doughnuts. And they want you to keep an eye out in the neighborhood for anything unusual.”
“Wow!” Jack said, looking a little afraid. He wiped the chocolate off his face quick.
The boys got seriously into the game. They pulled out an old telescope and watched the streets from our upstairs window. Warewolves were all they could talk about, to whoever they met, even strangers.
That night I dug into our trunks from North Dakota. Somehow I had packed a huge woolen blanket with a lining that Florida heat would definitely never require. I shredded it with a pair of scissors and scooped out some hair from the cage of Pinky our German Shepherd for good measure. I mixed that in with a big pile of beef scraps from supper. Then I dumped the whole huge mess in the front yard and went to bed.
In the morning Jack came in first. “I SAW THE WAREWOLF AGAIN!” he ran into my room, screaming.
At least he wasn’t cursing. I feigned a little confusion and looked out the window. I’d positioned the mess right by Jack’s dog pen. My plan had been to tell the boys that Jack had eaten the warewolf, and let that be the end of our adventure.
But the pile was gone. The yard was picked clean. Trash day was Tuesday and this was Sunday.
“I saw him again and this time he was eating a banana,” Jack said. Billy had a look on his face like he was going to pee his pants again.
I couldn’t figure it out. I needed to convince the boys, specifically Billy, that we had killed the monster in the neighborhood. That afternoon grocery shopping I slipped a extra large dog collar in the cart. I dug a hole in the front yard, filled it with dog food and put the dog collar in the hole. I’d tell the boys I dug a trap and that Pinky had eaten the warewolf when he fell in the hole.
But that didn’t work either. The next morning, the collar was gone, the hole was filled in, and there was no sign of anything. Billy had the first warewolf sighting this time. I think the warewolf was doing a crossword puzzle in the front yard or something. They swore up and down they saw him.
It didn’t do me any good. Their sightings got more elaborate, and more specific. The warewolf was howling at the moon, or chasing rabbits in the backyard, or chewing on a dead animal. Every way I tried to convince the boys that I had eradicated the imaginary threat was somehow thwarted.Someone was picking my attempts at subterfuge clean.
About a week went by before I got a knock at the door. efore me stood an unusually tall, well dressed man. I thought maybe he was a salesman, because he was wearing a three - piece suit, white gloves and was extremely well manicured. He looked very out of place. Most of our neighborhood was retirees.
I started to tell him “No than-” but he reached out his hand and smiled. “Vincent Impala,” he said, “three doors down the cul de sac.” He had the most perfect, straightest teeth I had ever seen.”I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.” He had the faintest trace of an Eastern European accent, but very friendly. He handed me a foil covered plate. Banana bread, by the odor of it.
“Pleasure,” I said, and shook his hand. He had an impossibly strong grip and ice cold hands. He seemed to notice that I stepped back from his touch. “Oh, so sorry,” he said, and pointed to a iced drink he’d sat down on our front porch table. It had a crimson color that I assumed was a strawberry daiquiri.
“I hear your boys are a little concerned about warewolves,” he said, and laughed.
“Aren’t boys amazing?” I said. “The things they think of?” They had been saying that to every retired couple that passed them by.
“Hi Mr. Imp!” said Jack from behind me.
“I took the privilege of cleaning up your yard at night,” he said. “Didn’t want to upset any of the neighbors. You know you can draw attention with that sort of thing.
He’s probably zoning board, I thought, sighing. I wonder if he’ll fine me.
“So you’re previously acquainted with Jack,” I laughed.
“Oh, I know everyone,” he said. “If you don’t mind, which house did they think they saw a warewolf in?”
“Oh it’s so embarassing,” I said. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “They got the idea when we drove by the developmentally delayed home-”
“Which one,” he said, and I noticed the slightest hint of - was it anticipation in his voice? Anger?
I didn’t consider there could be more than one home. I pointed out the tall brick building down the street with the columns.
“Tell Mr. Imp to come play,” Jack said. I turned to tell him to be quiet and when I looked back at the door Harvey had somehow disappeared. His daiquiri was gone too.
Strangely enough, the boys never mentioned the warewolf again. It was like the issue just went away. Once I even asked Jack about it. “I guess he left,” Jack said. I took it to mean he was less worried about Molly, or making more friends.
I came to know several of our other neighbors, and eventually asked about Vincent, but nobody seemed to know who he was. Once I did wander by the group home, that big Victorian building, while walking Pinky awhile later. But it seemed to be boarded up and closed.
A letter came in the mail that spiked my curiosity about a month after that. It was one of those surveys you get after you buy a washing machine or a refrigerator or something, which I usually throw away, except it had a handwritten note attached.
The note said, “Appreciate your business! I get a bonus if you give me all 5s. Let me know if you ever have a problem again. Regards, V.Imp.”
The return address was in Russian. Billy was right. Florida is differently a different kind of place.
What can you say? Billy was happy. I did enjoy the banana bread.