Blood on the Pillow?
“So, what’s this werewolf thing anyway? You really believe you are one?” Eddie Clark leaned back in the deer blind and arched a very skeptical brow.
“I’ve known it for a long time now,” Thornton Howell spoke in a monotone voice.
The two were known for playing tricks on one another. Their one-upmanship was usually the topic of laughter around the school. While watching for a deer, the pair had been discussing a rash of missing pets and animals in their area of the Ozarks. Small dogs. Cats. Even a noticeable decrease in the usual numbers of coons, rabbits, and squirrels. Thornton’s surprising confession that he was to blame had Eddie thinking. What’s he up to now? I know he really doesn’t expect me to believe this crock of crap.
The problem with Thornton was, that just as often as not, he was telling the absolute truth. Who knew when the lie became a joke, or the joke became reality? Like the time he claimed to see a UFO over the water tower. The colorful thing he described was real alright. Turned out to be a large string of party balloons that had lodged on the top of the tower.
The Bigfoot sighting? Some town people believed him. Most did not. However, one guy in the next county did have a gorilla suit and had been seen wearing it along the so-called haunted bridge. It was plausible that Eddy had seen something he claimed was a Bigfoot.
Once, Eddy had fooled Thornton into thinking he’d eaten poison mushrooms and had given him Ipecac syrup. The poor guy vomited for an hour. When he found out the mushrooms had come from the grocery store and not the woods after all, he’d promised to get even, although there was a gonna-getcha-back grin on his face.
“Thorny, you and I both know that many times when you cry wolf there is none. Now you’re telling me that when the moon is full, you morph into this hairy thing with fangs and prowl the woods till you find some poor creature, or someone, and . . . kill and eat it? Come on.”
“I kill rabbits. Squirrels. Coons. What’s wrong with that? We’re here to kill a deer, aren’t we? I have a real taste for venison.”
Eddy snorted. “We’re going to kill the deer with a bullet. Not rip it apart with our teeth.”
Thornton sighed and pulled his green and red plaid wool scarf snugly around his neck. “I knew you wouldn’t believe it. You don’t understand hunger. Especially in the winter. Game is not so plentiful.”
Something in his tone of voice was genuine. Eddy glanced at his eyes. He knew Thornton well enough to tell, most of the time when he was pulling a total spoof. Somehow this was different.
“I think you’ve been watching too many horror movies. That Twilight series. Isn’t that about werewolves and vampires falling in love with each other?”
Thornton shook his head. “I never saw the movie. Besides, I don’t believe in vampires.”
“Yeah? Well isn’t that a laugh?! Me neither. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, or fairies. I don’t believe in werewolves. And I know you don’t expect me to believe what you’re telling me, Thorny.”
Fiddling with his scarf, Thornton answered, “Just because you don’t believe something doesn’t make it false. Educated European people did not believe there were such things as mountain gorillas until 1902 when explorer Paul du Chaillu saw one.”
“Okay. You’ve got a point. Here’s what I want to know. Why would you want to turn into a wolf anyway? I think a gorilla would be lots more fun. They can swing around in the trees and eat good things like bananas and coconuts. I can see you doing that, pal.”
“Eddie, I don’t have a choice in the matter. I am what I am.”
“That’s been said, Popeye the sailor man.”
“Huh? Who’s that?’
“Some Jurassic-age-cartoon character who ate spinach and morphed into a muscle man. Like an incredible hulk.”
“Now it’s my turn to laugh. You believe in Popeye?”
“No. I said he was a cartoon character. So was the Hulk. There is a difference between fiction and reality. You do realize that. Right Thorny?”
After a silent pause, Eddy asked again, “Right Thorny?”
“Right. And there is a difference between unseen things and the tangible world, which you can only experience with the five senses. You don’t believe in hauntings. I do. There are things beyond our natural understanding.”
Eddie remained silent for a moment. His eyes scanned the evergreens which were swaying from side to side under the snow. A deer moving through?
Thornton glanced down and an eager gleam flashed through his dark eyes. Both hunters alerted, tensed and ready to fire their rifles. After a few minutes of nothing, they relaxed.
“Tell me when it first happened,” Eddie said, going along with the game, but keeping his eyes on the snow-dusted ground. What a bunch of garbage. Thornton’s spoofs were far out, but usually credible. This werewolf thing? No way.
“I think when I was 14. I knew I was different from the other kids at school. A loner they called me. There were four of us. We met together nights and ran under the full moon.”
“Ran? Like practicing for a track meet?”
Thornton shook his head. “We just ran together. It was a rush.”
Eddy asked, “What did you tell your parents? See ya later. It’s my night to howl. Oh, by the way, pick up some flea shampoo at the market.” He expected a laugh out of Thornton. Any minute now, the guy will admit he’s jerking my chain.
“They weren’t usually home anyway. Mom worked the night shift and Dad was always at the bars. I could come and go as I pleased. I liked being out at night under the moon.”
“Let me guess. You’re regressing. Your Mom read bedtime stories to you like Hello Moon. You got fixated on it.
“Nope. Although I did like Little Red Riding Hood.” Thornton grinned and licked his lips. “All the better to eat you with, my dear!”
“Okay, you ran with the pack. Then what?”
“We had this trail through the woods that nobody used but us. We got so we could run miles and never lose our breath. I can’t explain it. Then one night the moon was big. And we sat on a hillside after the run. That’s when the light came shining out of the trees. It was like—like it beckoned us to it. Like it wanted us. Freaked us out at first. But I had to move toward it. Had to, man. I just felt it calling me.”
A tiny shiver on spider’s legs ran up Eddy’s spine. He really believes this bunk. Could Thornton be having some kind of meltdown? Thorny’s voice was far more serious than at any time since they’d been friends. Eddy set aside his skepticism for the moment. “So, a light came out of the woods and called you. Then what. You started howling at the moon?”
“I walked right into the light like I was walking into a shower stall. It felt . . . there’s no words to describe the otherworldly. When I came out, I began to morph for the first time. My hands grew fur. My face. My teeth grew out of my lips. This ginormous hunger pang hit my middle. I’ve never been so hungry. I started to pant and then to growl. When I ran, I was on all fours.”
“Man, I’d hate to be your dentist. Say, Buddy, have you been to the vet for a rabies vaccine?”
Thornton ignored him. “The next morning, I woke up in my bed. My feet were covered in mud. My shirt had blood stains on it.”
“I can recommend a good stain remover for that.” Eddy wanted this to end.
Thornton ignored the suggestion. “I took the shirt out to the trash can and there was a corpse inside it.”
“A corpse?!” Eddy tried to keep his voice calm.
“Okay, just a dead rabbit. Its throat was torn out. I wanted to eat it. But when I bit into its flesh, I threw up. That’s the story. It happens to me every full moon for the last three years.”
Eddy suggested, “Why don’t you just grease up your body with moon-block? Sunblock can stop a reaction. Moon block ought to help.”
When Thornton did not answer with the expected humor, Eddy asked, “What about the rest of the wolf pack?”
“They didn’t go into the light with me. They freaked out after that. Now I run alone.”
“So, you’re the lone wolf. Running even in the snow? Cold weather?”
“Eddy, I don’t get cold when I morph. It’s a rush. I have energy like you can’t imagine. But I do get hungry.”
“You don’t ever eat anything but small animals, right?’ Eddy hoped for a yes.
“I don’t think so. When I wake up mornings, I don’t remember what I’ve done. Or what I’ve killed. God knows I wish I did. Sometimes there’s a lot more blood.” Suddenly facing Eddy with a serious, pleading look, he whispered, “I wish I knew nothing about this whole thing. It’s driving me crazy. I had to tell someone, Eddy! You’re my best friend.”
Eddy saw tears forming in his friend’s eyes. Terrible fear. A kind of deep desperation. He felt a little shaken. This was not the Thornton he had known since their freshman year. “If you’re making this up, you’re doing one fine job of acting, Bro. You’re an expert. You should get into the movie scene.”
The sun had dipped behind the taller trees. Longer shadows on the ground below had darkened. A few snowflakes floated past the blind. Eddy felt a sudden chill. He intended to get back to town before dark. With a sigh, he started packing his gear.
“Looks like we aren’t going to get a deer today.” He unloaded his rife for safe carrying. Sure, he might see a deer on the way back to the pickup, but it wasn’t worth the risk of a misfire. Gun safety first. Eddy had been taught you don’t walk out with a loaded rifle.
Thornton followed his lead. “Man, I’m hungry.” He shivered, but loosened the plaid wool scarf and shook out the snowflakes.
“You go first. I’m right behind you.” Eddy suddenly realized he did not want hungry Thornton following him. Yeah, the story was too far out, but the voice. The fearful eyes. So convincing.
Thornton suddenly broke into an uproarious belly laugh and slapped his knee. “What? You don’t want me walking behind you? Man, I had you going! You really bought into my werewolf story, huh?”
Eddy laughed too, greatly relieved and also embarrassed that he had halfway fallen for Thornton’s story. “I was going to say I hadn’t noticed you lifting a leg at any fire hydrants lately. Man, you’re something else.”
Thornton lived past Eddy’s house on a dead-end service road way back in the woods. Eddy pulled up to the front drive, said goodbye, and headed back home, half a mile or so away. He stopped to visit Elmer Hodges, an old backwoodsman who lived alone a few miles down the same country lane. No longer able to hunt due to a bad knee, Elmer would be hoping for a few pounds of fresh deer meat and disappointed the boy’s hunt had been a wash.
Elmer invited him inside and soon enough they were talking about wolves. “The game agents say there are no wolves in the southern Ozarks. Let me tell you, Eddy, I’ve heard wolf howls. No doubt about it. Not coyotes for sure. About once a month the deer stop coming around. My old hound, Bones, will not come out of his house for a few days. I figure Bones knows the wolves are passing through.”
Eddy nodded. He was thinking of what Thornton had said, once a month.
Elmer lit a pipe. “Just last spring, I found a deer-kill sight on the lane to my house, blood over a large area. The deer was torn apart. There were a few strips of hide about two inches wide and a foot long, and one hind leg from the knee down. The stomach contents were left at the kill scene. Nothing else. I followed the bloody drag-trail till it just went away. I never found a carcass at all, even watching for buzzards and crows. There were no tracks due to being gravel and grass.”
“Did you call the game agent?” I have a taste for venison. I don’t know what I’ve killed but sometimes there’s more blood than others.
Elmer took a draw on his pipe and nodded. “He acted like I was stupid to even think it could be wolves. I guess the kill could have been a cougar’s, which everyone knows we have in these hills, but I never found the carcass covered with leaves or pulled up in a tree the way a cougar hides its kill.”
Eddy hated to leave the cozy fireside, but it was past time to get home. He drove under the full moon, so bright he could have read a newspaper beside his bedroom window. With a nod to Dad and a kiss on the cheek to Mom after supper, he headed for his room.
“Mom,” he called. “Where’s Henry? His cage door is open.”
“That pesky parrot? I haven’t heard a squawk outta’ him for a couple of hours. It’s been a relief, I must say.”
Maybe he’s flown upstairs. Mom won’t like it if he’s left droppings all over the attic. Especially if he’s roosting up there.
Sleep wouldn’t come. Eddy tossed, worried about his pet. Henry might have flown unnoticed through the doorway when Dad got home. If the parrot was stranded somewhere in the cold, it wouldn’t survive the night. Finally, he got up, dressed and searched the house. No Henry. He pulled on his warm jacket, boots, grabbed a flashlight and his rifle and walked out back toward the trees where Henry usually perched when allowed outside.
He hadn’t gone far when a low growl startled him. The flashlight played over the snowy trees, and there before him stood a large wolf, its menacing eyes reflecting blood-red pinpoints of light. Henry’s unmistakable green feathers hung from its snarling fangs.
Startled and horrified, Eddy lifted his rifle, aimed and fired. Only then did he recall he had emptied the ammo. He dropped the flashlight and ran for the house, knowing it was too late for the hapless parrot.
A big wolf. No doubt about it.
After a fitful sleep, he hurried back to the scene at daylight. A few green feathers lay on the ground. No wolf tracks appeared on the snow-dusted ground. No tracks of any kind. There should have been tracks.
What he did find chilled him to the bone. A plaid wool scarf. Thornton’s scarf.
That night Thornton Howell woke to find a visitor in his bedroom. “Eddy? What are you doing here?” he sat up, rubbing sleepy eyes.
“I brought your scarf back.” Eddy stood there, a shadowy figure in the darkened room lit only by moonlight.
“My scarf? I musta dropped it in the woods when I shook out the snow. How’d you find it?
“You know very well.”
“The neighbor’s dog brought it. He drags things out of the woods all the time.”
“I’m not angry at you, Thornton. But I do want revenge for Henry.
“Henry? What are you talking about? How did you get in here? Dad keeps the doors and windows locked after he gets home from the bars.”
“Easy. I morphed into a bat and flew down the chimney. I know what you mean about being hungry. Don’t worry. I only want to bite your neck.”
“Come on Eddy. That’s a tired line. Besides, you can’t be a vampire. You’re at school every day. Vampires sleep in daytime.”
“Yeah, well I’ve been to the light. The one you said you walked into and came out changed. First time I morphed was a week ago. I’ve been using lots of sunblock since then.”
Leaning over Thornton’s bed, Eddy whispered, “Time for Henry’s revenge.” His lips drew back and Thornton thought he could see elongated teeth.
The revenge may have been bloodless. Or not. A get-even prank on Thornton?
Who knows when the lie becomes more than a joke . . . or the joke becomes reality?
There were no tracks in the snow.
If there is blood on the pillow in the morning . . .