“If this goes south, I need you to promise me something.”
“Don’t leave until you know the whole story.”
Her last words ring in my ears and swirl around my head. They always land on the same two words. Don’t leave. The bed feels stiff under my body and the blanket presses down on me like a twenty ton weight. The room has a faint glow from the dawn’s light slipping through the window. A numbing wave of acceptance rolls through my body.
I roll out of bed and peer out the window. It’s barely six o’clock, but there are two boys playing basketball across the street. The ball occasionally hits their garage with a loud bang. I turn away with a sigh. Rubbing a hand over my face, I walk to the closet and pull out a t-shirt and jeans. The stairs creak with every step I take.
In the kitchen, I pour milk into my cereal and sit to enjoy my measly breakfast. My spoon clinks against the bowl, and the sound reverberates throughout the room. The boys’ father has joined them now. It’s half past six. He looks exhausted. I imagine he works long days so he can provide for his children, but still wants to enjoy every second he can with them. It’s admirable. I rinse out my bowl and put it in the dishwasher. All that’s left to do is wait, so I do, by watching them play together.
The moving truck pulls into my driveway, carrying everything I left at my previous house. I unlock the front door and cross from my porch to my driveway in a few short strides. My eldest brother jumps out of the driver’s seat.
“Isak.” He puts a hand on my shoulder and gives a comforting squeeze.
“Graham.” I pull him in for a hug and cling to him like he’s a lifeline. “Thanks for doing this for me.”
He pulls away and gives me a sad smile. “I could hardly let you do this alone, could I?”
He claps my shoulder. “Come on, let’s get all this stuff in there.”
I nod, and we get to work. There are boxes upon boxes, not to mention the furniture. The pounding of the basketball stops. My brother and I turn. The tired, but happy, man is approaching with his sons lagging behind.
“Hello, there.” He smiles and offers his hand. “I’m James Butter and these are my sons, Chase and Zane.”
I shake his hand and my brother follows suit. “Isak Peters.”
“Are you both moving here?”
“Just me.” I pat my brother’s back. “He’s just the sorry fella who got roped into helping.”
We all share a laugh then James gestures to himself and his boys. “We’d be happy to help, if you’d like a hand.”
I pause. My brother shrugs and begins grabbing a box. I release the breath I’m holding. “That would be great. Thank you.”
We begin unloading the truck with me directing where everything should go. It’s twelve o’clock when we finish. I thank James and his sons and they go back to their home for lunch. Graham and I get started on some sandwiches for ourselves. There’s a companionable silence as we start eating.
“You want any help unpacking?” He glances up at me, taking a bite.
“No.” I glare at my sandwich. “I’ve got it.”
“Are we ever going to talk about it?”
“Graham,” I sigh, and put my sandwich down. “I can’t.”
He pauses. His glance falls on me, my sandwich, his sandwich, and back again. He puts his sandwich down too. “I think you need to.”
“One day I woke up to my wife, the next day I woke up alone.” My voice threatens to tremble. “That’s all there is to it.”
“Isak, we both know that’s not true.”
“You’re right, that’s not the part that hurts the most.”
He stays silent and looks at me expectantly.
“You couldn’t possibly have stayed. Not after what happened.”
“I didn’t know the full story, but I left anyway.” I push myself away from the table. “Let’s get started then.”
He ignores the fact I just said I don’t want any help, and we start unpacking. Occasionally we run into something that reminds me of her, but my brother helps me keep going. It’s nine o’clock when he leaves. We share another hug, both enveloping the other. Then he’s gone, and I go upstairs to bed.
* * *
She looked at me, eyes burning silver. Then her body convulsed, and unsettling cracks and pops exploded from her like fireworks. Fur sprouted, claws erupted from her hands, her face elongated, and her teeth grew into spikes. She looked at me like I was a rabbit.
“Clara, honey, are you in there?”
Her ears twitched.
“It’s okay. It’s me. Isak.”
Her head tilted and her body lowered.
She pounced. Before I even had the chance to move, I felt a searing pain in my shoulder. I screamed in agony. Then there was a gunshot.
* * *
I wake up with a gasp. Instinctively, I reach out across the bed for her. There’s nothing there, of course, just the cold sheet and unused pillow. It’s eight o'clock. I peer out the window, and the only excitement is the children leaving for school and their parents leaving for work. The boys across the street get in their dad’s car and their mother waves them off from the porch.
I go to the closet and grab a t-shirt and jeans, then go to the kitchen to fix some cereal. That’s when I realize what day it is. Halloween. The full moon. They landed on the same day this year. I put on some tea in the hopes that it will calm my nerves. Going out to sit on the porch, I take my first sip. The gagging occurs immediately. Tea was always her thing, and the blandness of it never mixed with my idea of a good drink.
A delivery woman walks up and hands me a small box. I look up in surprise but she just smiles and shrugs. Nodding to her, I accept the box, and she walks away to finish her deliveries. I set aside my half-drunk, ice-cold tea and take the box inside. It contains a vial of a murky, thick, dark grey mixture and a note. Just in case.
I grab a giant bowl and fill it to the brim with candy. Once it’s safely on the porch I go to the basement. There’s plenty of time until the sun goes down, but I check all ten locks on the door three times. The door is fortified by furniture to make it as hard as possible to get out. I take a deep breath, then down the vial in one gulp. The chains on the other side of the room are locked onto my arms and legs.
It’s eight o’clock. I can feel the moon rising without having to see it come up. My body convulses. It feels like every muscle is being ripped open. My blood crackles while fur sprouts from my skin. My fingers ache as claws force themselves out. I scrunch my face in pain as the bones adjust themselves.
I look around at my surroundings and huff in displeasure. I move to step forward but my paw catches. Tugging harder, and growling in frustration, I pull the chains loose. They clang and rattle against the ground. The furniture breaks easily from a few sharp swipes and the swinging chains. Now, the door. The furious scratching makes wood chips fly into the air. My ear twitches. I stop.
“Mr. Peters!” A shrill voice calls throughout the house. "You left this cup outside and your door was unlocked! Mr. Peters, are you here?”
I whine and begin scratching at the door again. Slower, and much more deliberate this time. It works. The footsteps grow nearer.
“Mr. Peters?” Closer still.
I break through. His eyes widen in shock. The cup falls from his hand and shatters on the floor. He turns to run but slips on remnants of the tea. His head and knee bang into the stairs. I lunge but he kicks out. His foot strikes my jaw. I stumble back and close my eyes while I shake my head. He’s up the steps by the time I refocus. Leaping up the steps, I land at the top but slip on the laminated wood. He’s already out the door and on the lawn. I charge after him. The chains slow me down and beat into every piece of wood, brick, cement, and grass. I cut him off on his driveway. My growl rumbles through the night. Something in me hesitates. He’s panting, crying, and pleading with me. I make my decision in a split second. I pounce.
* * *
Her body shifted and I held her while her life drained away. Tears streamed down my face from pain and misery. The man comes over. He looks horrified at what he’s done.
“I thought there was a wolf!”
I had to think on my feet. “There was. You missed and it ran off.”
“I’m so, I’m so sorry. What do I do? What did I do?”
“You need to get out of here!”
At the funeral everyone asked me how something like this happens. Was she murdered? What kind of person shoots someone kind like her? Am I going to be okay? I didn’t tell any of them the truth. No one would believe my wife was a werewolf. No one would believe she was testing a potion that would help her keep her mind. No one would understand why I told her killer to run. How could I possibly explain what my life was with her? Or what my life was now?
* * *
I wake up. It’s eleven o’clock. I peer out the window and watch the funeral procession go by. Chase died in a freak accident, and the body couldn’t be recovered. I put on my best suit and go outside. There’s wailing like I’ve never heard. His mother kneels on the ground, silent tears streaming down her face. I walk up to James.
“I’m so sorry.”
“I know it’s not the same, but I lost my wife. Just before we moved here.”
He says nothing in response.
“She chose this house and I have to live in it everyday.” We look at each other with a new sense of bonding. “You’re always welcome, if you ever need to talk.”
“Thank you, Isak.” We shake hands.
I go back home and walk downstairs. All the way to the basement. The boy is lashing out as his new senses develop. He slashes at every flicker of the light and gags profusely at every new smell. I stand at the door. He growls and lunges, eyes burning sliver.
* * *
His parents sob, kiss their son, and thank me profusely when I bring him home a year later. They think it’s a miracle. Chase knows to come to my house every full moon, and his parents trust me enough to accept this arrangement. The potion is perfected now, so we keep our minds when we change. It’s nice to no longer be alone, and I finally understand the whole story.