Authors: Peter S.; Peter S. Beagle; Joe R. Lansdale Beagle
Well, except for the dogs, of course.
There was a lot of barking when I went by, real hysterics which at first made me really scared. But then I popped out of an alley up on Ridge Road, right in front of about six dogs that run together. Their owners let them out all night and don’t care if they get hit by a car.
They’d been trotting along with the wind behind them, checking the garbage set out for pickup the next morning. When they saw me, one of them let out a yelp of surprise, and they all skidded to a stop.
Six of them. I was scared. I growled.
The dogs turned fast, banging into each other in their hurry, and trotted away.
I don’t know what they would have done if they met a real wolf, but I was something special, I guess.
I followed them.
They scattered and ran.
I ran too, and this was a different kind of running. I mean, I stretched, and I raced, and there was this joy. I chased one of them.
Zig, zag, this little terrier-kind of dog tried to cut left and dive under the gate of somebody’s front walk, all without a sound—he was running too hard to yell, and I was happy running quiet.
Just before he could ooze under the gate, I caught up with him and without thinking I grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him off his feet and gave him a shake as hard as I could, from side to side.
I felt his neck crack, the sound vibrated through all the bones of my face.
I picked him up in my mouth, and it was like he hardly weighed a thing. I trotted away holding him up off the ground, and under a bush in Baker’s Park I held him down with my paws and bit into his belly, that was still warm and quivering.
Like I said, I was hungry.
The blood gave me this rush like you wouldn’t believe. I stood there a minute looking around and licking my lips, just sort of panting and tasting the taste because I was stunned by it, it was like eating honey or the best chocolate malted you ever had.
So I put my head down and chomped that little dog like shoving your face into a pizza and inhaling it. God, I was starved, so I didn’t mind that the meat was tough and rank-tasting after that first wonderful bite. I even licked blood off the ground after, never mind the grit mixed in.
I ate two more dogs that night, one that was tied up on a clothesline in a cruddy yard full of rusted-out car parts down on the South side, and one fat old yellow dog out snuffling around on his own and way too slow. He tasted pretty bad and by then I was feeling full, so I left a lot.
I strolled around the park, shoving the swings with my big black wolf nose, and I found the bench where Mr. Granby sits and feeds the pigeons every day, never mind that nobody else wants the dirty birds around crapping on their cars. I took a dump there, right where he sits.
Then I gave the setting moon a goodnight, which came out quavery and wild, “Loo-loo-loo!” And I loped toward home, springing off the thick pads of my paws and letting my tongue loll out and feeling generally super.
I slipped inside and trotted upstairs, and in my room I stopped to look at myself in the mirror.
As gorgeous as before, and only a few dabs of blood on me, which I took time to lick off. I did get a little worried—I mean, suppose that was it, suppose having killed and eaten what I’d killed in my wolf shape, I was stuck in this shape forever? Like, if you wander into a fairy castle and eat or drink anything, that’s it, you can’t ever leave. Suppose when the morning came I didn’t change back?
Well, there wasn’t much I could do about that one way or the other, and to tell the truth, I felt like I wouldn’t mind; it had been worth it.
When I was nice and clean, including licking off my own bottom which seemed like a perfectly normal and nice thing to do at the time, I jumped up on the bed, curled up, and corked right off. When I woke up with the sun in my eyes, there I was, my own self again.
It was very strange, grabbing breakfast and wearing my old sweatshirt that wallowed all over me so I didn’t stick out so much, while Hilda yawned and shuffled around in her robe and slippers and acted like her and Dad hadn’t been doing it last night, which I knew different.
And plus, it was perfectly clear that she didn’t have a clue about what I had been doing, which gave me a strange feeling.
One of the things about growing up which they’re careful not to tell you is, you start having more things you don’t talk to your parents about. And I had a doozie.
Hilda goes, “What’s the matter, are you off Sugar Pops now? Honestly, Kelsey, I can’t keep up with you! And why can’t you wear something nicer than that old shirt to school? Oh, I get it; disguise, right?”
She sighed and looked at me kind of sad but smiling, her hands on her hips. “Kelsey, Kelsey,” she goes, “if only I’d had half of what you’ve got when I was a girl—I was as flat as an ironing board, and it made me so miserable, I can’t tell you.”
She’s real thin and neat-looking, so what does she know about it? But she meant well, and anyhow I was feeling so good I didn’t argue.
I didn’t change my shirt, though.
That night I didn’t turn into a wolf. I laid there waiting, but though the moon came up, nothing happened no matter how hard I tried, and after a while I went and looked out the window and realized that the moon wasn’t really full any more, it was getting smaller.
I wasn’t so much relieved as sorry. I bought a calendar at the school book sale two weeks later, and I checked the full moon nights coming up and waited anxiously to see what happened.
Meantime, things rolled along as usual. I got a rash of zits on my chin. I would look in the mirror and think about my wolf-face, that had beautiful sleek fur instead of zits.
Zits and all I went to Angela Durkin’s party, and the next day Billy Linden told everybody that I went in one of the bedrooms at Angela’s and made out with him, which I did not. But since no grown-ups were home and Fat Joey brought grass to the party, most of the kids were stoned and didn’t know who did what or where anyhow.
As a matter of fact, Billy once actually did get a girl in Seven B high one time out in his parents’ garage and him and two of his friends did it to her while she was zonked out of her mind, or anyway they said they did, and she was too embarrassed to say anything one way or another, and a little while later she changed schools.
How I know about it as the same way everybody else does, which is because Billy was the biggest boaster in the whole school, and you could never tell if he was lying or not.
So I guess it wasn’t so surprising that some people believed what Billy said about me. Gerry-Anne quit talking to me after that. Meantime, Hilda got pregnant.
This turned into a huge discussion about how Hilda had been worried about her biological clock so she and Dad had decided to have a kid, and I shouldn’t mind, it would be fun for me and good preparation for being a mother myself later on, when I found some nice guy and got married.
Sure. Great preparation. Like Mary O’Hare in my class, who gets to change her baby sister’s diapers all the time, yick. She jokes about it, but you can tell she really hates it. Now it looked like it was my turn coming up, as usual.
The only thing that made life bearable was my secret.
“You’re laid back today,” Devon Brown said to me in the lunchroom one day after Billy had been specially obnoxious, trying to flick rolled up bits of bread from his table so they would land on my chest. Devon was sitting with me because he was bad at French, my only good subject, and I was helping him out with some verbs. I guess he wanted to know why I wasn’t upset because of Billy picking on me. He goes, “How come?”
“That’s a secret,” I said, thinking about what Devon would say if he knew a werewolf was helping him with his French: loup, manger.
He goes, “What secret?” Devon has freckles and is actually kind of cute-looking.
“A secret,” I go, “so I can’t tell you, dummy.”
He looks real superior and he goes, “Well, it can’t be much of a secret, because girls can’t keep secrets, everybody knows that.”
Sure, like that kid Sara in Eight B who it turned out her own father had been molesting her for years, but she never told anybody until some psychologist caught on from some tests we all had to take in seventh grade. Up ’til then, Sara kept her secret fine.
And I kept mine, marking off the days on the calendar. The only part I didn’t look forward to was having a period again, which last time came right before the change.
When the time came, I got crampy and more zits popped out on my face, but I didn’t have a period.
I changed, though.
The next morning they were talking in school about a couple of prize miniature schnauzers at the Wanscombes that had been hauled out of their yard by somebody and killed, and almost nothing left of them.
Well, my stomach turned a little when I heard some kids describing what Mr. Wanscombe had found over in Baker’s Park, “the remains,” as people said. I felt a little guilty, too, because Mrs. Wanscombe really loved those little dogs, which somehow I didn’t think about at all when I was a wolf the night before, trotting around hungry in the moonlight.
I knew those schnauzers personally, so I was sorry, even if they were irritating little mutts that made a lot of noise.
But heck, the Wanscombes shouldn’t have left them out all night in the cold. Anyhow, they were rich, they could buy new ones if they wanted.
Still and all, though. I mean, dogs are just dumb animals. If they’re mean, it’s because they’re wired that way or somebody made them mean, they can’t help it. They can’t just decide to be nice, like a person can. And plus, they don’t taste so great, I think because they put so much junk in commercial dog-foods—anti-worm medicine and ashes and ground up fish, stuff like that. Ick.
In fact after the second schnauzer I had felt sort of sick and I didn’t sleep real well that night. So I was not in a great mood to start with; and that was the day that my new brassiere disappeared while I was in gym. Later on I got passed a note telling me where to find it: stapled to the bulletin board outside the Principal’s office, where everybody could see that I was trying a bra with an underwire.
Naturally, it had to be Stacey Buhl that grabbed my bra while I was changing for gym and my back was turned, since she was now hanging out with Billy and his friends.
Billy went around all day making bets at the top of his lungs on how soon I would be wearing a D-cup.
Stacey didn’t matter, she was just a jerk. Billy mattered.
He had wrecked me in that school forever, with his nasty mind and his big, fat mouth. I was past crying or fighting and getting punched out. I was boiling, I had had enough crap from him, and I had an idea.
I followed Billy home and waited on his porch until his mom came home and she made him come down and talk to me. He stood in the doorway and talked through the screen door, eating a banana and lounging around like he didn’t have a care in the world.
So he goes, “Watcha want, Boobs?”
I stammered a lot, being I was so nervous about telling such big lies, but that probably made me sound more believable.
I told him that I would make a deal with him: I would meet him that night in Baker’s Park, late, and take off my shirt and bra and let him do whatever he wanted with my boobs if that would satisfy his curiosity and he would find somebody else to pick on and leave me alone.
“What?” he said, staring at my chest with his mouth open. His voice squeaked and he was practically drooling on the floor. He couldn’t believe his good luck.
I said the same thing over again.
He almost came out onto the porch to try it right then and there. “Well, shit,” he goes, lowering his voice a lot, “why didn’t you say something before? You really mean it?”
I go, “Sure,” though I couldn’t look at him.
After a minute he goes, “Okay, it’s a deal. Listen, Kelsey, if you like it, can we, uh, do it again, you know?”
I go, “Sure. But Billy, one thing: this is a secret, between just you and me. If you tell anybody, if there’s just one other person hanging around out there tonight—”
“Oh, no,” he goes, real fast, “I won’t say a thing to anybody, honest. Not a word, I promise!”
Not until afterward, of course, was what he meant, which if there was one thing Billy Linden couldn’t do, it was to keep quiet if he knew something bad about another person.
“You’re gonna like it, I know you are,” he goes, speaking strictly for himself as usual. “Jeez, I can’t believe this!”
But he did, the dork.
I couldn’t eat much for dinner that night, I was too excited, and I went upstairs early—to do homework, I told Dad and Hilda.
Then I waited for the moon, and when it came, I changed.
Billy was in the park. I caught a whiff of him, very sweaty and excited, but I stayed cool. I snuck around for a while, as quiet as I could—which was real quiet—making sure none of his stupid friends were lurking around. I mean, I wouldn’t have trusted his promise for a million dollars.
I passed up half a hamburger lying in the gutter where somebody had parked for lunch next to Baker’s Park. My mouth watered, but I didn’t want to spoil my appetite. I was hungry and happy, sort of singing inside my own head, “Shoo, fly, pie, and an apple-pan-dowdie …”
Without any sound, of course.
Billy had been sitting on a bench, his hands in his pockets, twisting around to look this way and that way, watching for me—my human self—to come join him. He had a jacket on, being it was very chilly out.
Which he didn’t stop to think that maybe a sane person wouldn’t be crazy enough to sit out there and take off her top leaving her naked skin bare to the breeze. But that was Billy all right, totally fixed on his own greedy self without a single thought for somebody else. I bet all he could think about was what a great scam this was, to feel up old Boobs in the park and then crow about it all over school.
Now he was walking around the park, kicking at the sprinkler-heads and glancing up every once in a while, frowning and looking sulky.
I could see he was starting to think that I might stand him up. Maybe he even suspected that old Boobs was lurking around watching him and laughing to herself because he had fallen for a trick. Maybe old Boobs had even brought some kids from school with her to see what a jerk he was.