Not Non-Fiction

Stories.

People In Brick Houses Shouldn’t Throw Bricks.

The Real Story Of The Three Little Pigs

“Listen, I’ve come up with a plan. You know that guy who’s always bugging us? I know I’m tired of him always coming around and I know you two must be too, so I’ve figured out a way to take care of him.”

“You mean we’re gonna get him locked up?”

“No. We need something permanent. You know he’s been locked up before and in three or six months he’s out again, coming around and annoying everybody. The plan I have is to take him out for good.”

“You mean—“

“No!”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. The guy’s a menace, a real menace, and it’s time we stepped up and took some real action to get rid of the son of a bitch.”

“That’s funny.”

“What?”

“Son of a bitch. Because he’s a—“

“All right! Enough kidding around! We need to get serious. Now here’s my plan. Mike, you need to build a house out of straw.”

“Why do I need to build a house out of straw? What’s wrong with the place where we live now?”

“Shut up! This is all part of a bigger plan. We can’t just take him out somewhere and rub him out. That would look bad. There’d be too many questions. It doesn’t matter that no one likes him. People would still be suspicious. And he wouldn’t fall for it. We have to be careful here. All right, Jeff, you need to build a house out of sticks.”

“Why sticks?”

“Because I’ve only got enough straw for one house, okay? And we’ve got sticks all over the place.”

“Why not build two places out of sticks then?”

“Because I’ve already got the straw! And here’s what we do. Mike, you wait in your straw house until he comes around.”

“How do we know he’ll come around?”

“He always does, doesn’t he? And when he comes around you knock the house down.”

“After I’ve gone to all the trouble to build it?”

“Yes! And then you act like he did it. Act all scared and run to Jeff’s stick house.”

“Yeah, I learned how to make a pretty good lean-to out of sticks when I was a kid.”

“I don’t care! Then when he comes around to Jeff’s stick house you knock it down too.”

“Sticks are heavy! What if they fall on us?”

“Use little sticks!”

“It’s not gonna be big enough for both of us if I use little sticks. Are you really sure you’ve thought this through?”

“It doesn’t have to be that big! Look, just hide behind it and kick it down from the outside. This doesn’t have to be that difficult. Now after you kick it down you run here, okay?”

“And we act scared.”

“Now you’re getting it. When you get here come in and lock the door. Then when Wolf comes knocking we’ll tell him the door is stuck or something and the only way in is through the chimney.”

“What about the windows?”

“Shut up! He won’t ask about the windows and if he does we’ll say they’re swelled shut or something. We’ll just keep telling him the only way in is to climb up on the roof and come in through the chimney. Eventually he’ll go up there and come down the chimney. We’ll have a nice big fire going.”

“What? Come on, Kevin, this is pretty serious, even for him. When you said you had a plan we thought maybe you’d make him move away or something. We didn’t think you meant—“

“How else did you think we were gonna get rid of him? Come on, the guy’s a huge hassle and he’s always going to be one. Jeff, remember that time he ‘borrowed’ your lawnmower?”

“Well you told him he could.”

“Shut up! I just told him where it was.”

“You know, I’m getting pretty tired of you telling us to—“

And Mike, remember the time you found him sleeping in your bed?”

“Well you let him in the house and then you went off and left him there alone.”

“Yeah, I had to go to court, remember? For that traffic thing where they said I was responsible but we all know the light was yellow when I went through the intersection. I was trying to be nice and just told him to make himself comfortable. I didn’t tell him he could sleep in your bed. He did that all on his own. The guy’s a menace. He bothers everybody, and he’s nothing but trouble. Don’t you agree we did something? Come on, guys, we’ve got a huge problem and we need to fix it once and for all.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

“Me too.”

EPILOGUE

“Hey, guys, thanks for having me over. Kinda warm for a fire, though, ain’t it?”

“We just thought it would be fun to fire up the grill.”

“Sure, sure, always a good way to make something tasty.” Wolf sniffed the air. “It’s really nice of you to invite me over for lunch. Speaking of that something smells pretty good there. What is it we’re having?”

Jeff and Mike exchanged looks.

“Ham.”

Coke Heads.

This picture of several Doctor Pepper knockoffs is making the rounds of the web and is unattributed, although this particular version is pulled from BoingBoing.
Notably absent is Mr. Pibb although if you’ve tried the current version, Pibb Xtra, you know that leaving it out is an act of mercy because it is to Mr. Pibb what New Coke was to Coke, but only if New Coke had also been flavored with lemon, durian, and Borax.
New Coke was of course prompted by the devastating Cola Wars of the 1980’s, a conflict which had been brewing since the very early days when both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola contained real cocaine and people were slipping on banana peels everywhere, prompting the very first anti-littering campaign and the slogan “Keep America Beautiful”, followed by the very first anti-loitering campaign and the slogan “Keep America Beautiful–Stay At Home”, but that’s another story.
Too often overlooked are some of the other great soft drink conflicts of the 20th Century, so here they are.
Lest we forget.

Pepsi Challenge 1975-1984

The Great Bare Knuckle Root Beer Brawl Of ’29

The Tang Altercation 1969-1973

The Nehi Conflict 1950-1954

The Great Fresca Fracas 1991

The Ascent Of Mountain Dew 1953

The Moxie Square-Off 1949-1951

Sun Drop v. RC Cola (Supreme Court Case, 1954)

The Shasta-Fanta Scrimmage 1984-1985

The Cheerwine And Big Red Ruckus (limited to Shakey’s Pizza parlors in the Midwest) 1973-1982

The Sarsaparilla Shoot-Out of Aught Seven

The Donnybrook of Shloer 1916-ongoing

Don’t Talk To The Furniture.

“Imagine what this would tell us if it could talk.”—Tour guide at every historic site ever

“As a bucket I was mostly used for transporting water in and out of the kitchen. Then I was put in a closet for a really long time. Don’t ask me how long. All I know is that once when I was still being used I was left outside by the well all night and a dog peed on me. It dried up before the next morning and I didn’t tell anyone when they came out to get more water. I had a long time to feel bad about that. Then again they were literally drinking from a hole in the ground.”

“Oh sure, I’ve seen lots of big historic events and have been used by famous people. All kinds of famous, historic people and big events. What? Be specific? Okay, sure. Uh, there was Genercaptain Marfel Smulanik. That was a famous historic person, right? Are you a famous historic person? Please say yes so I have something to tell the next group.”

“I am a table. You put things on me. If you need to have that explained to you you’re the one that belongs in a museum. Now move along. The group is leaving you behind.”

“Well, as you can see, I’m a painting. I’m on canvas and I’ve got a frame of some kind. I can’t tell you a lot more than that because I can’t actually see myself. Maybe if someone would hold a mirror up to me I’d have some idea what I look like. I’ve seen a lot of other paintings. I could tell you about those, but if I’m the one you’re really interested in you should have spent the eight bucks for the audio guide.”

“Rocks have a really short attention span so, yeah, I got that going for me.”

“I was assembled by master craftsmen in a major furniture studio in Regensbourg, Germany, in 1823 and brought to the United States by then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. I resided in his home and remained while he served as President and in Congress. I estimate that at auction I’d sell for around $30,000. No one’s looking! Now’s your chance to grab me and run!”

“You want the truth? I was made in an amateur woodshop in 1962 and artificially aged. Now that I’ve told you that I’ll probably be fired. That word has a different meaning for us. It’s a dirty little secret of the fake antiques world that when one of us is exposed we get thrown into an actual fire. Bet now you wish you hadn’t been so pushy.”

“I am a chair used by the court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, a glorious time for France that included the elimination of feudalism, the building of the palace at Versailles, and expansion of colonial holdings in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Because I date from the 17th century a lot of people sat in me before the invention of modern toilet paper and now you need a sign and a velvet rope telling you to not touch me. What’s wrong with you?”

“I used to be in the lobby but then I got reupholstered about eight months ago and moved to the gift shop. Neat, huh?”

School Work.

It’s a living.

“School prepares you for going to work.”-statement made by at least three of my primary school teachers

“Compare and contrast.”-task on reading comprehension tests given to me by at least three of my primary school teachers

School-Get up at a specific time, get dressed, eat breakfast, get on the bus. Do this Monday through Friday from early morning to afternoon.

Work-Hit the snooze button on the alarm at least twice. Skip breakfast. Pour coffee into a travel mug and carry it with you to work.

Additional notes: Specifics vary widely from one job or place to another. Some people have flexible hours. Some work shifts that vary depending on whether that guy who just got hired a week ago unexpectedly walked out. Some people work the weekends, some people work entire days without stopping.

Some people take a bus but not necessarily a bus that will drop them right in front of their place of employment. Some take trains. Some drive alone. Some people travel all over the place. Some are part of a carpool which can either be fun or like the most miserable bus trip imaginable depending on what that one guy had for breakfast.

School-First thing upon arrival if you didn’t already meet up with a bunch of your friends on the bus now is the time you get together with them.

Work-Mutter obligatory greetings to various people whose names you may or may not remember. Engage in small talk at the coffee pot.

Additional notes: Specifics vary widely from one job or place to another. Some people don’t report daily to a specific office, travel, have different shifts, etc.

School-Gather in a classroom with a bunch of other people who are close to your age.

Work-Sit in a cubicle surrounded by people whose ages may be as little as a few months to several decades different from yours.

Additional notes: Specifics vary widely etc.

School-Agenda is set by a single person who is much older than you. Tasks are very specific and time frames are clearly set.

Work-Agenda may be set by someone who is significantly younger or older. Tasks and time frames aren’t always specific.

Additional notes: Specifics vary blah blah blah.

School-The daily schedule is highly organized. Classes usually last an hour. Each class is devoted to a topic—language, math, geography, science, etc. Specifics within these topics may be reviewed for several days or several weeks.

Work-You’re gonna do pretty much the same thing for eight hours a day.

Additional notes: Something something specifics.

School-Daily scheduled “recess” gives you a chance to get outside.

Work-You might be able to grab a few minutes for a breather depending on what you do but I’m not going to speculate on the specifics.

School-Have a regularly scheduled lunch in the cafeteria. If you’re lucky someone will start a food fight.

Work-Maybe grab a quick bite between meetings. If you’re lucky you won’t dump a big blob of marinara sauce on a highly visible part of your white shirt or blouse.

School-Significant failure may result in you being held back and having to repeat a year of lessons.

Work-Significant failure may result in you having to look for another job.

School-Sometimes if you don’t complete an assignment on time you get a failing grade. Sometimes you might be able to get an extension or do make-up work.

Work-If you don’t complete an assignment on time you’re probably gonna get fired. Specifics vary widely though, but your ability to stay focused and finished tasks can determine your career. For instance if you procrastinate a lot you should reconsider being a firefighter.

School-Many assignments can be completed with minimal effort and require little more than copying information from the out-of-date encyclopedias your parents keep as decoration.

Work-Specifics vary but odds are your boss isn’t going to be very impressed with a double-spaced hand-written report on the primary exports of Ceylon in 1968 even if you put it in a nice folder and padded it out with some maps you traced.

School-Getting out of taking the English test you didn’t study for might require Shakespearean-level acting to convince your parental unit(s) that you are sick.

Work-Pinching your nose while talking on the phone might be enough to convince your germophobic boss that you should stay home but that earnings report is still going to have to be turned in.

School-Do your work well and you’ll be allowed free time to pursue your own interests.

Work-Do your work well and you’ll be given a raise and a promotion and a lot more to do.

School-Rule-breaking will result in punishment. Serious enough infractions can result in suspension or, if bad enough, even expulsion, and that incident where you “accidentally” set the building on fire can have a serious impact on your plans to be a firefighter.

Work-You can lose your job for any number of reasons, specifics yadda yadda.

School-Snow days mean you can stay home, hang out with your friends, sleep in, and have fun. If you try to go in you’ll be the only one there and you’ll feel like an idiot.

Work-If you try to go in your dedication and persistence may be rewarded. Or you might end up stuck on the interstate or in a terrible accident. Or you might find you’re the only one who made it in. Pretty much whatever you do you’re going to feel like an idiot.

Conclusions: I forgot these were due. Can I turn them in tomorrow? I think the important lesson here is specifics vary.

What It Was Was Some Kind Of Bowl.

Given recent events I thought I should offer up a revised version of an earlier post, What It Was Was Fantasy Football because I’m very environmentally conscious so I believe in recycling. In fact every year I go to the store on Superbowl Sunday when it’s really crowded and busy and say to the checkout person, “Wow, lotta people here. Is something happening today?”

Maybe one of these years someone will realize I’m making a joke, but that’s another story.

Starting Lineup

Offense

Nate Solder LT Festin

Joe Thuney LG King Meshugah

David Andrews C Dejah Thoris

Shaq Mason RG Thorin Oakenshield

Marcus Cannon RT Yog Sothoth

Julian Edelman WR Sandman

Chris Hogan WR Ningauble Of The Seven Eyes

Martellus Bennett TE Conan The Barbarian

Tom Brady QB Sir Gawain

LeGarrette Blount RB Hellboy

James Develin FB Namor Of Atlantis

Defense

Chris Long DE Balon Greyjoy

Alan Branch DT Mongo

Malcom Brown DT Xena, Warrior Princess

Trey Flowers DE Anita Blake

Elandon Roberts OLB The Red Queen

Dont’a Hightower ILB Lessa/Ramoth

Rob Ninkovich OLB Lord Voldemort

Malcolm Butler CB Atticus O’Sullivan

Patrick Chung SS Eeyore

Devin McCourty FS Rudy Ruettiger

Logan Ryan CB Number Six

If You Didn’t Need Medication Before You Will Now.

Thank you for calling the automated pharmacy refill service. You may use this service at any time to refill your prescriptions. This includes times when the pharmacy is closed. Were you aware that you can now use the automated pharmacy refill service to refill your prescriptions?

If you were not press ‘1’ now.

If you were press ‘2’ now.

If you would like to move on to the next option press ‘3’ or remain on the line.

You have selected ‘3’. If this is correct press ‘1’ now. If it is not press ‘2’ to return to the main menu.

Thank you. You have selected ‘1’. You will move on to the next option in just a moment.

Is this a medical emergency? If it is press ‘1’ then hang up and dial 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance now.

If it is not a medical emergency press ‘2’ to move on to the next menu option.

You have selected ‘2’. Are you sure this is not a medical emergency? If you are not press ‘1’ now for a list of situations that might require emergency medical attention. If any of these apply you should hang up and dial 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance.

If you are sure this is not a medical emergency press ‘2’ now.

You have selected ‘2’ indicating that this is not a medical emergency. Please be aware that we cannot be held responsible if you are experiencing a medical emergency and insist on trying to refill your prescription instead of seeking medical assistance.

If you are on a specialty medication or there is another reason you may need to speak to a pharmacist please call during regular business hours. If you would like to know what the regular business hours for this pharmacy are press ‘1’ now. If you would like to move on to the next menu option press ‘2’ now.

You have selected ‘2’. Are you sure you know what the pharmacy hours are? If you do press ‘1’ now. If you’re not sure and would like to go ahead and hear them press ‘2’ now.

You have selected ‘1’. We will not be responsible if you try to pick up your prescription in the middle of the night because you don’t know what regular business hours are.

If you are with a doctor’s office and are calling to submit a new patient subscription please hang up and call our doctor’s office number. If you don’t know what our doctor’s office number is press ‘1’ now. If you are with a doctor’s office and do know what our doctor’s office number is but called this one by mistake please press ‘2’ then hang up and dial the correct number.

If you are a patient calling for a prescription refill press ‘3’ now.

If you think we should have put that last option first please remain on the line once you’re done and you will be redirected to a short customer satisfaction survey.

You have selected ‘3’. Please enter the last four digits of the phone number we have on file for you followed by the pound key.

I’m sorry, we could not find that number in our files. If you would like to try and remember which number you gave us when your prescription was placed press ‘1’ now.

If you have so many numbers you don’t have a clue which one we could have press ‘2’ to spell your last name now.

You have selected ‘1’. Please try and enter the correct number this time followed by the pound sign.

Thank you. We have located your file. Please enter your prescription number—

I’m sorry, you didn’t listen to the full message. Please enter your prescription number preceded by the star sign followed by the pound sign after you have pressed zero. Once you have entered your prescription number press the number 1.

Thank you. This prescription has no refills. Would you like us to contact your doctor? If yes press ‘1’. If not press ‘2’ then hang up and call your doctor.

You have selected ‘1’. We will contact your doctor for you.

Do you have any other prescription refill requests? If yes press ‘1’. If no press ‘2’.

You have selected ‘2’. Please be aware that if you are mistaken you’ll have to listen to this entire message again.

Would you like to leave a message for the pharmacist? If yes press ‘1’. If no press ‘2’.

You have selected ‘2’. Would you like to leave a message explaining why you don’t want to talk to the pharmacist, even to just say hello? Sometimes a little personal message can really brighten the pharmacist’s day. If yes press ‘1’. If no press ‘2’.

You have selected ‘2’. Because the pharmacist is a professional this lack of concern on your part will not be taken personally. However if you call back within the next half hour to refill another prescription your call may be routed to this message in Albanian.

We will process your prescription refill request. If you would like to take a short customer survey please remain on the line.

If you are using a rotary phone please hang up and call from another phone or remain on the line. If you are calling during regular business hours someone will be with you after the short customer survey.

It’s All In The Details.

fragileDetailed Package Tracking

December 9

10:12am-Your package has been accepted for delivery.

10:44am-Your package is now ready to be shipped.

11:01am-The shipping department crew is now laughing at you for purchasing the extra insurance.

11:07am-Your package is being shaken by Kevin who’s really good at figuring out what’s being shipped.

11:22am-Your package has been thrown across the room into a large wheeled hamper.

11:34am-A bunch of other packages have been dropped on top of yours.

11:37am-The hamper with your package has just been moved six feet to the left.

11:43am-Everyone’s gone to lunch.

12:36pm-The hamper with your package has been moved six feet to the right.

12:42pm-Employees are now playing ‘Toss The Packages Marked Fragile’.”

12:57pm-Kevin just lost for the fifth time.

1:03pm-Kevin is re-taping your package.

2:34pm-Your package has been loaded onto the delivery truck.

2:58pm-The delivery truck driver is still scratching himself.

3:21pm-The delivery truck is now in transit.

4:05pm-In transit.

5:07pm-In transit.

5:22pm-In traffic.

5:43pm-Delivery driver getting coffee.

5:58pm-In traffic.

6:03pm-Driver stopped to have a beer.

6:48pm-Driver going the wrong way.

7:22pm-Driver knows you’re home. Quietly left a note saying delivery attempted but no response.

8:31pm-Driver returned to shipping hub.

9:03pm-Employees are laughing about people who didn’t get their packages delivered.

December 10

12:03pm-Driver in transit with your package.

12:24pm-Per instructions you arrive at the shipping warehouse to pick up your package.

12:36pm-Clerk looking for your package.

12:45pm-Warehouse employees laughing at you for making a special trip.

1:03pm-Package delivered to your neighbor’s house.

2:25pm-Your neighbor is in transit.

2:34pm-Neighbor going the wrong way.

2:48pm-Package delivered.

 

Where Everybody Knew His Name.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Dylan Thomas was a regular at the Brown’s Hotel Pub in Laugharne. He was such a regular he gave the pub’s phone number as his. The anniversary of his November 9th, 1953 got me thinking about his resemblance to another bar regular and I thought how he might have greeted everyone as he came in each day.

Door opens.

Dylan: Good afternoon everyone.

Everyone: DYLAN!

Robert: How’s it going, Dylan?

Dylan: Cur is set upon cur and I am gartered with a mongrel’s dinner.

Door opens.

Dylan: Good afternoon everyone.

Everyone: DYLAN!

Robert: What are you up to, Dylan?

Dylan: Perfect proportions if I could stand eye-height with the Laugharne castle turret.

Door opens.

Dylan: Good afternoon everyone.

Everyone: DYLAN!

Robert: What’s shakin’, Dylan?

Dylan: My mortal flesh, stork-white and swollen as the tide that coaxes the cockles from their airy nest.

Door opens.

Dylan: Good afternoon everyone.

Everyone: DYLAN!

Rhys: How are you feeling, Mr. Thomas?

Dylan: Bitter.

Rhys: I’m sorry to hear that.

Dylan: No, a pint of bitter now!

Door opens.

Dylan: Good afternoon everyone.

Everyone: DYLAN!

Robert: I’ve drawn a pint for you, Dylan.

Dylan: I admire your skill with the stylus but would prefer a filled glass.

Door opens.

Dylan: Good afternoon everyone.

Everyone: DYLAN!

Robert: I have a pint ready for you Dylan.

Dylan: I shall partake then whatever it may be.

Robert: Looks like ale.

Dylan: A ray of sun breaks into this vale of tears.

Door opens.

Dylan: Good afternoon everyone.

Everyone: DYLAN!

Robert: How are we today, Dylan?

Dylan: Time, like a running grave, fans the flames of our bodily hearths.

Robert: Lager then?

A Werewolf Problem In Southern Indiana.

wolfanddogThe following story was written by journalist Allen Walker and appeared in the October 2015 issue of Catchall, an alt-weekly for which he is a feature writer. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission. His articles have also appeared in Matrix, Road Hogs, Elsewhere, and other publications.His essay Patagonia Dreamin’ is included in the anthology The Journey Of A Thousand Miles. Other stories by Allen Walker that have appeared here are Living Or Dead Is Purely Coincidental (Part 1, Part, 2, Part 3, Part 4), That Was The Year That Was, and Submerged.

George Bathory reported during the night that he’d shot a large animal near his campsite. The next morning park rangers found a naked man with a bullet wound in his shoulder. The man, later identified as Sam Gould, refused to press charges. Neither of the men knew each other, nor did they have any connection that investigators could find.

Those are the facts and they are strange enough in themselves but to make it stranger Bathory maintains he did not shoot a man. The whole matter could have been easily dismissed as a hunting accident if he hadn’t insisted on going to court to protest his innocence. When I arrive at his home on a small suburban cul-de-sac he tells me almost immediately that he’s decided that an appeal would be too costly, but he insists, in spite of the court’s decision, that he is not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“It wasn’t a man,” he says. “I know what I saw. I might have shot to kill if I hadn’t been so scared.”

What exactly did he see, or think he saw? A clue to that is in the list of witnesses he wanted to call: mostly biologists, at least five of whom are in Canada or Alaska, but also folklorists and anthropologists. It’s hard to see how any of them could offer anything that would bolster his case.

“They have to know,” he says. “They have to know these aren’t just stories.”

While he goes to the bathroom I examine his bookshelves. He has a whole series of books titled Roughing It Easy and several more on camping and hunting. At the end of the shelf is a cluster of books about mushrooms. I flip through one that’s full of colorful photographs and diagrams clearly marking every species as delicious, inedible, or dangerous. He finds me looking at this book when I return and launches into a talk about mushroom hunting, how there are five types easily identifiable by anyone that are not only edible but very good.

“Were you collecting mushrooms when you were camping?” I ask. I hope the question doesn’t sound too obvious. Mr. Bathory, with his short hair and straightforward demeanor also doesn’t seem like the type to engage in recreational drugs of any sort, but I’ve learned you never can tell.

He shakes his head, waving the question away. “With the drought you’re not going to find any mushrooms out in the woods.”

His wife, a tall, slender woman with a halo of red hair and pale blue eyes, comes in to tell us lunch is ready.

Once we start eating I try to bring the conversation back to his conviction.

“You do understand why it sounds pretty ridiculous,” I say. “A large creature like that roaming around the woods here just seems too incredible to be true.”

“I know what I saw!” He slams his fist down on the table.

After a few minutes of silence I tell his wife the paprikash is delicious. The chicken floats in a sauce that looks like blood.

wolf

Even though I felt obligated to talk to Mr.Bathory he’s not the real reason I’m in Glasgow, a small town in southwestern Indiana. The real reason is a woman I’ll only call Alpha. A month earlier, after I’d written up a brief filler about the shooting, she emailed me to tell me she wanted to confirm his story. She also added that there was more to it.

We stroll along an easy path through a state park. As we get deeper into the woods she inhales deeply.

“I work in an office but this is where I really belong,” she says.

“How often do you come out here?”

“Every chance I get.”

An unseasonably cool breeze passes through us. I’m at a loss for what to ask next when I remember the moon was only a sliver in the sky over my hotel this morning. I ask if I should have come closer to a full moon. She looks at me, frowning.

“It’s not a lunar thing. It doesn’t work like that. Do you know where that comes from?”

“Tell me.”

“There’s all kinds of myths and stories about lunacy and the effects full moons have on people but the idea that we’re bound to the moon comes from Hollywood and Hollywood got it from Petronius. Except Petronius doesn’t say it’s a full moon. He just tells the story of two slaves who spend the night in a field. One of them sees the other strip down and transform. He can only see it because of the moonlight. The change really can happen anytime. It’s not something we become. It’s who we are.”

“Always?”

“All the time.”

We stop. Alpha looks around. “There are people here.” There were a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived but I haven’t seen anyone. “They’re about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes ahead of us on the trail,” she says. “I shouldn’t be telling you about us.”

“Why did you contact me then?”

She sighs. “Because you seem open-minded. Because you were asking about the shooting and it has all of us on edge. These things have happened before but we’ve never had anyone make so much noise about it. It’s never been this public. It got some of us thinking maybe it’s time to come out. We have so much to lose but so much to gain too.”

“Like what?”

“For one thing we don’t know how it happens. My mother wasn’t like me. She would have told me. And I never knew my father. We don’t know if it’s genetic, but if it is we could make the world safer for our children.”

We continue walking. I ask if there’s any evidence that it’s passed on by a bite, like in some folklore.

“You’re thinking rabies. And porphyria. We think it’s more complicated than that, like it just crops up in people at random.

“But if you come out there might also be efforts to try and cure you,” I say. “There are stories about that too. Wolfsbane, silver bullets.”

Alpha turns and glares at me. “You think Sam got shot by some camper who just happened to be carrying a rifle with silver bullets? Don’t be a dumbass.”

When we reach the end of the trail Alpha shakes my hand.

“I need to get back to work. It has been nice talking to you. We’ll pick you up tonight at seven.”

I thank her politely but inside I’m elated. I’ve passed the test and will get to meet the pack.

werewolf3

The van pulls up at the front of my hotel a little after seven. The late summer sun is still high in the sky. It’s humid and I’ve been dousing myself with bug spray to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I open the back to toss in my gear. Then, as  I’m climbing into the side, I come face to face with a man with a thick, long beard. He looks at me suspiciously then turns to the front where Alpha sits in the passenger seat.

“Is this a good idea?” he asks.

Alpha’s reply is blunt. “Yes.”

The other three passengers—two women and an African American man—are friendlier. They introduce themselves to me as Kathy, Linda, and Larry. Larry invites me to sit next to him. The bearded man will only tell me his name is Beta, and he spends the trip staring out the window. Once we get underway I ask if anyone minds answering a few questions. I try to address this to everyone in the group, but I’m intrigued by Larry. He grins widely and says, “What do you want to know?”

A hundred different things, but I start with the obvious.

“How did all of you meet?”

Kathy turns around. “It started with me and Alpha. We met when we were Girl Scouts. We were in different troops but using the same campsite. That’s how we met each other one night. Out roaming the woods alone. We’ve been friends ever since.”

“So you were…”

“Different,” she says. “But we both knew we needed each other. And we needed others.”

Linda interrupts. “The internet has been what’s brought us together but you have to be careful. Most people think we’re crazy. Some people want to join us and it turns out they’re crazy.”

“How can you tell?”

Linda’s nostrils flare. “You smell like a skeptic.”

“And bug spray!” yells Alpha from the front seat. “God, let’s crack some windows.”

Linda’s right, I am skeptical, but while I’ve tried to keep my questions neutral it’s not exactly a revelation. Even though stories of lycanthropes extend across the northern hemisphere and almost every culture has its stories of humans that turn into animals—including dolphins—the idea of meeting the real thing still seems incredible. Yet this group’s insistence that they are a “pack” seems strangely believable. As Alpha said there are many things they don’t know. If this were a hoax, I assume, they’d have built up an elaborate story. Taking a single reporter on a camping trip also seems like a poor way to stage a hoax. They’re too careful, too secretive. Kathy tells me they have to be.

“Sam got sloppy. He forgot that we don’t just go out with each other for fun. We also do it to protect each other. He forgot that some people will try to hurt us.”

I ask if she thinks I might.

“It’s hard to tell through the bug spray and deodorant and hotel soap but I don’t think so.”

The others, aside from Beta, agree.

I continue asking questions and learn that they do these camping trips at least twice a month from March through October, tapering off to just once a month in the winter months. There are a few other members who aren’t attending, apparently put off by me. The van’s driver is Karl whom I learn is not really a member of the pack but a trusted outsider who only serves as chauffeur and won’t be staying with us.

When we get to the parking lot of the place where we’ll be camping I offer to help carry gear which makes everyone laugh. This group travels light. I’m the only one with a pup tent and a sleeping bag. I also brought two thermoses of coffee, anticipating a late night, an early morning, or both. Everyone else has rolled blankets and small bags for carrying food, water, and cooking gear. We set out for the campsite. Larry brings up the rear and I walk with him. We chat and I learn during the day he’s a librarian, “mostly behind the scenes stuff.” Everyone else is quiet. Alpha and Beta lead the group and talk a little as we go. Kathy and Linda walk single file in the middle.

At the campsite everyone puts their bags down in a circle but Alpha advises me to set up my tent on a ridge about a hundred feet away “to be safe”. Safe for whom? I decide not to ask.

Once my tent is set up I rejoin the group. Everyone’s eating field rations, MREs, in self-heating packages.

“We used to build fires but it was too distracting,” says Alpha.

“From what?” I ask. Everyone looks at each other.

“They could attract others. Someone also had to stay up and make sure the fire was put out so nobody’d step in it or get scared away. This way we all get to relax and just be ourselves.”

Larry hands me an MRE. “And with you here,” he says, “I don’t get stuck with the vegetable lasagna.”

I’m not sure what the joke is but I laugh along with everyone else.

The sun sets. Someone places a small portable lamp in the middle of the group and soon the others are just five faces bobbing in the darkness. From their conversation they could be almost any group of hobbyists. Alpha complains about a difficult co-worker. The others’ advice is generic. Then they start to talk about previous camping trips, about the time in late March there was a light overnight snow. During a lull Linda pulls pulls out a flask. She hands it to Alpha who drinks then reaches across the circle to me. The others all watch.

“What is it?” I ask. I wonder if I’m being drawn into some ritual, if this is a plan to make me one of them. There are stories of potions and moonlight ceremonies. Some werewolves are born, others are made.

“Drink,” says Alpha.

I tip up the flask and take a mouthful. Warmth fills my mouth and then spreads through my chest and body.

“Whiskey?” I ask.

Scotch, Linda tells me. “It’s tradition but for you I brought the good stuff, the twelve-year old single malt.”

I feel honored. I pass the flask to Larry who shakes his head and motions to Beta who takes it and has a long pull. Cathy and Linda receive it next and then it goes back to Alpha who then hands it to me. This time after I drink I hand it to Beta, and it makes the same round again two more times before Cathy turns it over.

“Time for bed,” says Alpha.

I climb up to my tent. Behind me the lamp is turned off. As I crawl into my sleeping bag I hear murmurs. I feel like a kid who’s been sent to his room so the grownups can talk. I keep the tent flap open but they’re all in darkness now. The waxing moon is just visible through the trees on the horizon but doesn’t cast enough light. And then, somehow, I sleep.

For a moment I’m not sure where I am. The moon is directly overhead now. I hear rustling and can make out shadows moving. I flick on my flashlight and aim it at the clearing below. There are blankets spread out but I see no one. As I raise the light bright green eyes shine back at me. Against the stars I see the silhouettes of hunched figures. There’s a crackle of leaves then the scream of a rabbit.

I can’t move. I am unarmed and alone.

A long howl echoes from the hills around me.

werewolf1

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