The Writings of Samantha Peters

Fictional short stories, poetry, and short essays written by Albuquerque-based writer, Samantha Peters. All opinions are exclusively hers alone.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

For a limited time only... "Moon's Rib"

This is probably my favorite story in my upcoming anthology "After 2AM". The idea behind it came from first-hand accounts of two gentlemen from Maine, so you could say part of this is actually based on a true story. I'm not going to say which parts though. 

                                         Moon's Rib

                             Copyright 2013 by Samantha Peters, All rights reserved.

Me, I could have waited. But Jesus Himself wasn’t going to get Tabitha to wait a day past her birthday. Which was fine and all, I mean I ain’t gonna complain about the consummation of course, but we couldn’t very well stay living where we were after we were married. But I told her, Tab I only have a certain amount of financial means here, I can’t just go out and buy the first house we see. And she said not to worry about that, her daddy would help us, and he did, he’s a good man. But he didn’t exactly tell us how he planned for us to pay him off. So that’s how I ended up here, nearly ten o’clock at night in the blistering cold, standing outside our shipping dock, missing the damn game, waiting for a truck that’s five hours late. But the man said, don’t leave without unloading that truck. He said it shouldn’t be too long. And I guess I could go home anyway but well, ten’s a nice even number. If the truck ain’t here by then, it’d be downright unreasonable for him to be upset about me up and going. I can’t leave Tab and Lily alone that late. It just ain’t right.
            I check my watch again and I still got a good quarter hour. I want to go inside but these trucker fellows are not the smartest lot. They don’t always get that a bright light and an open cargo door means someone is still here. Either that or they’re just lazy. Who am I to know.
            Finally I see headlights and I’m just about to grin wider than a parade until I realize they’re too low for an eighteen-wheeler. Few seconds later I am confirmed. They belong to a 1976 Chevy that my buddy Chip won in a bet two years ago against Mike Tanner. Nobody, especially Mike Tanner, expected Chip to actually take the car. But boy he did, and he’s been cruising around in that thing with a big damn smile on his face ever since, even though Mike Tanner went and got himself accepted to the state university and can’t even get raw about it.
            Chip parks in front of me but leaves the car running with the headlights on. He jogs out to me. The boy is a hundred pounds soaking wet but he’s a fierce runner. He’s got his favorite cap on, the white one with the red California letters on it, which he also won in a bet. Not against Mike Tanner though. That one was against me.
            “What are you doing out here Chip?” I ask as a greeting. “Why ain’t you down at Bailey’s with every other sensible person?”
            “It’s Tab, Doug.” He answers, a little disappointed I didn’t mention the cap. “She’s been calling you for the last half hour. Can’t you hear the phone out here?”
            I shake my head. “No, it’s way over on the other side by the register. What’s wrong?”
            “She says there’s someone lurking around your house. But I went over there first and looked around and didn’t see nothing. So I told her I’d come get you, see what’s taking so long.”
            I didn’t particularly like Chip taking care of my family without my asking. “Where did she say the man was?”
            “Right outside ya’lls kitchen window. Like, right outside. She said he was looking at her and she was looking right back, then she screamed and ran to the phone, starting dialing you.”
            “Well did she recognize him?”
            Chip chewed on this for a bit, as if it were a complicated question. Finally he said, “No. But she did say… and remember, she’s been with Lily all day by herself, and cooking, and I think her mother called her earlier so you know how she gets…”
            “I know my wife, Chip,” I say sharply. “Just spit it out.”
            Chip sighed. “She said he had yellow eyes.”
            I stared at him.
            He held up his hands. “Hey, I’m just the messenger. It was probably a reflection or something anyway. She maybe even saw herself in that window.”
            “She probably did,” I say absent-mindedly. “Well, tell you what. I gotta wait for this truck… why don’t you go inside and give her a call for me, let her know I’ll be home real soon. Tell her to make herself some tea and relax a bit.”
            I could tell what he was thinking, he was wondering why I was still out there. He probably thought I looked like a damn idiot with my thumbs up my ass. But I wanted to give this task a fair shot and if Chip had seen something, he would have called the police, or else chased the man down. Seemed to me to be no real emergency, just my wife’s nerves, and if every man dropped what he was doing on account of some woman’s nerves, nothing would ever get done in this country.
            Chip goes inside and makes the call. He’s gone longer than I like. What the hell do those two have to talk about anyway? But he’s back in a moment, and awkwardly stands next to me, like we’re waiting for the Indians to come raid us and he’s got my back. Only he shuffles his feet a bit, which makes me glad there aren’t any real Indians.
            “You don’t have to wait around here on my account,” I say to him.
            “Well I know that, shoot. But I’m already out here, ain’t I? When’s this truck supposed to come, anyway?”
            “Four thirty.”
            “Well shit, why are we standing out here like a pair of jackasses? Let’s go.”
            I check my watch. “Ain’t quite ten yet.”
            Chip shakes his head. “Well, if you’re staying ‘til ten then what’s a few more minutes to me then? I’ll wait too.”
            I can’t stand the idea of him waiting with me, especially when he starts shuffling his feet again. Then I realize he’s actually writing in the snow with his feet, like he’s ten years old. I roll my eyes and say, “Why don’t you go inside and warm up and wait by the phone, in case Tab calls back?”
            “Sounds good,” he says as he’s already halfway inside.
            The truck doesn’t come and we close up the shop. I write a note to the old man because he’s opening in the morning, and I don’t want a seven a.m. phone call. Tab will start asking questions and think something’s wrong. She doesn’t get the business. And she really doesn’t get how business and family can be separated. Women just don’t compartmentalize like men do. It ain’t their fault, but that don’t mean I want to deal with it.
            She is sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea when I get in, only the string of the tea bag is still draped over the side of the mug, and I don’t see any steam. She made it to show she listened to me, but her heart’s not in it. I take off my boots and my other winter things but leave my coat on. I sit across from her and spread out my legs, fold my hands behind my head and before I can even say anything, she starts.
            “Oh it was terrible. I was standing right over there… right by the window… just happened to look up, and those eyes… that face staring at me. He could see me and he knew I could see him! Oh honey, he didn’t care! He wasn’t afraid to be caught. He wanted me to see him. His eyes… did Chip tell you about the eyes?”
            “Yes, he did.”
            “They were yellow, I swear on my brother’s grave, they were a fiery yellow. I ran away and got to the phone… where were you? What took you so long? Why didn’t you call me?”
            “I was waiting for a truck,” I explain. “Chip told me he checked things out, didn’t see anything. Darlin’, are you sure this face you saw wasn’t your own? Or a trick of the light?”
            She glares at me. “You don’t believe me.”
            “Now hold on. I didn’t say that. I’m just asking. It’s reasonable if it were a reflection, that’s all. You’ve worked hard all day with Lily and keeping the house nice- which it’s very nice- and Chip said you talked to your mother-“
            Tab shutters. “Thirteen minutes.”
            “-and so your nerves weren’t that strong, that’s all. Tab, you’re just tired. Why don’t you go lie down and get some sleep and I’ll clean up the rest of the kitchen. In the morning you’ll see this was just all-“
            She stands up suddenly. “It wasn’t a reflection. Or a trick of the light. It was a face, Doug. A real face with yellow eyes. And you’re damn lucky he didn’t burst through that window and eat me right up. Where would you be then, huh?”
            And with that she turns on the heel of her house slipper and marches down the hall, but I’m not angry with her. She did take her tea, after all.

            Tabitha found our house about three months before we were married. Her mother had taken her to the next town for some antique shopping, and on the way they drove down route 46 and there it was, with the sign up and everything. I remember her running towards me at lunch, her thin blonde hair desperately trying to catch up, and she plopped her books down next to me and said, “I know where we’re gonna live.”
            That’s when I explained to her about money and whatnot but she was determined, as I said. I didn’t think that house would stay on the market though. It’s real nice, on the edge of the woods and slightly outside of town, nice big front yard and three spacious rooms. No neighbors, which I like. I don’t like that it’s right off a big road though, so we put up a fence in case our kids ever played in the front. Lily never does though. She likes the woods, as any sensible person would. Ain’t a day go by that she’s not bringing home a dead bug or gnarly stick or some other thing. When she was a baby I took her outside at night and showed her the stars and the moon and told her as long she could see them, she was free. She may have been just a baby but I swear she understood exactly what I meant.
            Tab loved the woods too, which is one of the reasons she loved the house. We’d go hiking through it all the time, see all kinds of things. I’d even hold her hand, just like we did back in high school. Lily would run in front of us and the breeze would flow over us and it was like we were the only people in God’s good earth. And hell, maybe we were.
            I was right about the next morning. Tab woke up in a nice mood and made the coffee, humming a bit under her breath. The sun was bright and the snow was melting. Lily sat at the kitchen table, her feet swaying under her chair as she nibbled on some toast. When she saw me she says, “Daddy, you didn’t come say goodnight to me.”
            “I’m sorry, baby,” I apologize, ruffling her hair. “I had to work at grandpa’s store late last night.”
            “Well you have to tell me two bedtime stories tonight then.”
            I grin. “It’s a deal.”
            Tab puts a cup of coffee in front of me. “Good morning,” she says.
            “It is a good one, ain’t it?”
            She nods and sighs, which is her way of saying yes but something’s on her mind. She won’t just come out and say so, she wants me to act interested.  I’m not keen on this game but it makes her happy and I’ll do anything to get her mind off of last night, so I oblige. “Is there a bee in your bonnet, honey?”
            “No… well, it’s just my mother wants to come over today for lunch.”
            Dammit. “Well she doesn’t have to. We could tell her we got other plans.”
            Tab sighs again. “I already told her yes. I was so scared last night that even talking to her made me feel a bit better.”
            “Hey, maybe it was her face you saw. She does have them beady yellow eyes.”
            Tabitha stares at me, but even though she wants to hate me for making light of the situation, she likes my joke. After a moment a smile spreads over her face and she playfully hits my arm. Then she says, “Not sure which way is scarier.”
            Now that things are smoothed over a bit, it’s time to seal the deal. “Tell you what,” I say. “Since she’s coming over and whatnot, why don’t I take Lily down to the store and get some things? You can stay here and relax a bit. We’ll get sandwich fixings. Your mother would be downright unreasonable if she complained about bread and meat. They are the basis of God’s good earth, after all.”
            Tab smiles again. She likes it when I talk emphatically about the Lord. I think it warms her up a bit. “That’d be nice, honey, thank you.” 
            “Can I get gum at the store?” Lily asks as I pick her up and carry her out of the kitchen. I say no within earshot of Tab, but we both know what momma doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.
            We have a carport big enough for two in our driveway, but the station wagon is just a little too wide so we park it on the other side of the fence, just inside our property line. Lily and I are laughing and playing as I toss her up and down as we walk into the yard, at first I don’t notice anything strange. In fact, it isn’t until we get all the way to the gate that I see the broken post. I stop short, and put Lily on her feet. She asks what’s wrong, and I point. “Do you know what happened here?” I ask.
            Lily shakes her head. “No, Daddy.”
            “This fence wasn’t broken yesterday,” I say. It’s just one broken post, so it’s an easy fix, but it perplexes me as to what caused it.
            “Maybe it was the bear.”
            I look over my shoulder at her. “A bear huh? I think a bear would do much more damage than this, sweetheart.”
            “Hmm maybe a moose then?”
            I laugh. “Same thing. Think smaller. If an animal did this, it’d be like a raccoon or something.”
            “But raccoon tracks ain’t that big.”
            I look at her again. “What’d you say?”
            She points at the ground. I didn’t notice it on account of the melting snow, but sure as the sun rises in the east, there was a big track mark just a few inches from where we were. I could tell immediately why Lily’s little mind thought it was a bear or a moose, the track was well over a foot long. I stood up and scratched my head. “Well you’d be right, little lady. That ain’t no raccoon track. But it ain’t a bear or a moose either.”
            “It looks like a person’s foot,” Lily observes.
            “Well maybe a little, but no sensible person would walk out in the snow last night with no shoes on. It probably looks human cause of how the snow is melting around it or something.”
            Lily points. “There’s another one by the car.”
            We walk through the gate and investigate the second track, which looks almost the identical to the first. I glance around, and sure enough, there are two more, both of them leading out by the side of the house.
            I look back at our kitchen window, but I don’t see Tab through it. Part of me wants to honor my word and go to the store, but I know these tracks won’t last long in the heavy sunlight. I don’t know why some fool would be tramping around outside with no shoes on, but if they’re the same fool who scared my wife, then clearly they ain’t got very little sense anyway. Tracking him now may be my only chance to figure this whole thing out.
            I kneel down in front of my daughter. “Lily, honey, I’m gonna go follow these tracks for a bit. I think the animal that made them lives out in the woods behind our house. It ain’t safe for you, so I want you go back inside and tell Mommy you wanted to say here.”
            “No buts please, and I promise I’ll get you some gum later.”
            Bribery always works. Lily runs back into the house, and before Tabitha has time to come out to ask questions, I’m on the trail of the big footed peeper.

            As I mechanically put meats and cheese and condiments in my cart, I thought about my discovery. The trail ran cold about fifty feet from our backdoor, right as the woods started to thicken. It just stopped short. The trees were nowhere near strong enough to house that kind of creature, but there were no nooks and crannies for it to escape to either. It was like the man just up and disappeared into thin air.
            Well that’s just downright silly. He had to go somewhere, and it didn’t look like he went back to the road. I wonder if he’s still out there in those woods, hiding, biding his time until nightfall. Well he’s got another thing coming if he thinks he’s going to spy on Tabitha again tonight. I’m off and I like to stay up late.
            “I thought you were gonna take Lily with you to the store,” Tab says as I walk in carrying the groceries. “Then she tells me you found footprints of a bear? Doug, what the hell’s going on?”
            I push past her and place the groceries on the kitchen counter and start unloading them. Tabitha stands less than two feet away from me, tapping her feet. She’s still wearing her house slippers even though the heat’s on. I take my time putting things away and then I say, “Well the good news is there ain’t no bear, at least not one that’s taken a liking to you. But we did see tracks and I made Lily go inside in case it was something dangerous, that’s all. Then I just took off quick to the store as not to waste any more time.”
            She stares at me. I look up and her and she says, “Well?”
            “Well what?”
            “Well if it ain’t a bear than what the hell is it?”
            I close the refrigerator and stand up. “I don’t know,” I admit. “But don’t you worry. Tonight I’m off and I ain’t gonna let no peeper anywhere near our house.  You can rest easy on that.”
            I know she’s not going to, but it at least satisfies her enough to get her off my back. This is when she realizes she hasn’t gotten dressed yet and hurries to the bedroom. I finish putting up the groceries and go check on the radio to see if anyone’s talking about the game.

            At twelve-thirty her mother arrives. That woman is nothing if she’s not timely. She does her usual ritual when Tab opens the door, which is take one step in, glance around disapprovingly, slip off her coat, hand it to Tab expectantly, then takes two more steps, only to pause, consider, and finally take off her shoes. She hates taking her shoes off, and you know this immediately because she makes a face like she’s disposing of a thousand dollars in a trash can. Then, and only then, does she grace the living room with her presence.
            Lily runs around the corner to greet her. The one (and honestly, only one) redeeming quality about my mother-in-law is her complete love and admiration of Lily. She scoops up the girl and embraces her tightly, and then takes her hand to the couch as Lily reports on every little thing she’s been up to lately. Vanessa smiles, nods, and comments appropriately as they settle down together. Meanwhile, Tabitha is a complete wreck.
            “Doug bought some sandwich fixings for us,” she stutters. “Ham and turkey and he even remembered the fat-free mayonnaise.”
            Vanessa’s eyebrow perks up. “Fat-free? For what are you trying to imply, dear?”
            Tab’s face flushes. “No- I mean, it’s just that when we had that egg salad at Meryl’s house, you said-“
            “I was being polite,” Vanessa cuts off. “I didn’t want to actually eat that atrocious thing, so I asked if the mayonnaise was fat-free. When it was not, I had a plausible excuse. I didn’t realize it would lead you to think I needed to lose weight.”
            “No- no, it’s not that, it’s just-“     
            “Tabitha, darling, do you mind getting me some hot tea? I still feel a bit of a chill in my bones even inside your house. And get Lily a hot cocoa, I can tell she’s shivering.”
            Tabitha stands there like she’s been slapped in the face for a moment, but then mutters, “Yes, of course, mother” before retreating to the kitchen. Through all this, Vanessa does not even acknowledge me, and I do my best to return the favor.

            Before long, we’re all sitting at the table eating sandwiches. Lily’s feet are still swinging under the table and Tabitha is making a big show of smearing mayonnaise on her sandwich. Vanessa sips her tea. I’m the only one really eating, and I eat two sandwiches to their one. Finally Vanessa breaks the ice.
            “So, Doug, Tabitha tells me you saw footprints in the snow.”
            “Yes, bear ones!” Lily shouts.
            “Lily, no shouting at the table,” Tabitha says absent-mindedly.
            “Was it a big scary bear?” Vanessa says, grinning at Lily.
            Lily frowns. “We didn’t actually see him.”
            “It wasn’t a bear,” I interject. “It was a human, just a tall one.”
            “A human footprint in the snow? Why wasn’t the poor man wearing shoes?”
            Tabitha glares at her. “That ‘poor man’ was spying on me, mother.”
            “I highly doubt that, dear. Why would he want to spy on you?”
            Tabitha’s face flushes again. “If I knew that, then-“
            “I don’t think he meant to spy on her in a bad way,” I interject again. “I think he was a looney. Someone just lost in the woods as well as in their mind.”
            “I should say so, trampling around with no shoes on. Well dear, I hope you were decent at least.”
            “Why wouldn’t I be decent? I was in the kitchen!”
            “Well I just know how you young people are these days… free-and-easy seems to be keen.”
            “Mother, we’re not a couple of hippies.”
            “I didn’t say that.”
            “What are hippies?”
            “Wipe your mouth, dear. It has jelly all over it.”
            “Hippies are young people who listen to wild music and don’t follow the law,” I explain. “That’s all you need to know. Now go wipe your mouth like your grandmother said.”
            “I don’t have a napkin.”
            “Did you forget to put out the napkins again, dear? Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”
            “I got it, Mother.”
            “Oh heaven’s sake let me get my granddaughter a napkin. I’m not as old and feeble as you think.”
            “Daddy, is the looney hippie gonna come back at bedtime?”
            I laugh, though it’s clear from the looks of death I get from my wife and mother-in-law that I’m not supposed to, so I hush up quick and say, “No, sweetheart. He’s probably gone home. But Daddy will be here tonight, just in case, and you ain’t got nothing to worry about.”
            “I should hope not,” Vanessa says, returning to the table. “You know, these hippies do take some very exotic drugs. He was probably on LSD.”
            “What’s LSD?”
            “Mother, that’s enough.”
            “Oh she won’t remember any of this conversation. Children’s minds are very dim, you know. That’s why they are so innocent.”
            “Hey Lily,” I interject a third time, preventing Tabitha from really speaking her mind. “Let’s go outside and shovel out the rest of the snow.”
            “Can I hold the big shovel?”
            “Yes of course.”
            Tabitha shoots me a “how dare you abandon me” look as Lily and I get up and clear our dishes, but I just shrug it off. It’s her mother, not mine. She’s the one who invited her over anyway.
            Lily and I stay outside until Vanessa leaves, then we go inside and I watch some T.V. while Lily plays. Tabitha can’t sit still and is still fiddling around in the kitchen. I wait awhile, expecting her to come to her senses at any moment, but she doesn’t, and eventually I realize she’s waiting for me to come comfort her. I sigh and get up off the couch. When I take a good look at her, I realize just how much this whole thing has startled her. I give her a big hug and she leans into me, burying her face in my flannel shirt, and cries softly. I just let her cry for several moments, and then finally she pulls away from me, wipes her face with her sleeve, and smiles.
            “It probably was just some loony hippie,” she says, and I know she’s okay now.

            The sun goes down and we eat supper, and everyone’s in a good mood. We put Lily to sleep and Tabitha takes a shower. Then we settle in and watch a bit more T.V. before she yawns. Even though it’s earlier than she usually checks out, she gets up and goes into the bedroom. I stay up a bit longer, until after the late show. I don’t know the guests but people sure are dressing strange these days.
            I guess I dozed off a bit because I wake up to a startling cracking sound. I look around me but nothing’s going on. The T.V. is off. Well maybe I turned it off thinking I’d hit the hay and just didn’t get around to hitting it. I walk over to the big window and look out into our front yard, but there was nothing there. I rub my head. Maybe it was a dream. At any rate it was way too late for me to still be awake, so I flip off the lights and start heading towards the bedroom.
            I stop short and turn around. Again there’s nothing unusual about my house. The noise is clearly coming from outside. I go back to the window. I hadn’t realized it the first time but it started snowing again, just real lightly, but even still the clouds did not obscure the moon. It looked real pretty outside and I thought, nights like these shouldn’t be wasted. And anyway I wanted to see what that noise was.
            So I put on my coat and my winter things and carefully open the front door, so as not to wake Tab or Lily. Immediately the cold hits me, and I pull my coat together and button it up as I step outside. I close the door behind me and in a moment, I am standing in the middle of my front yard.
            The snow starts to drizzle on my coat. I remember being a kid and me and Chip and some of the other boys sticking our tongues out and collecting snowflakes on our tongues, until that got boring and we made snowmen and snow angels, until that got boring and one day someone bet Chip he couldn’t lick the flagpole without getting his tongue frozen there. Well anyone with any sense knows that when it’s freezing, it’s freezing, and how many idiots have gotten their tongues stuck to flagpoles? But Chip was not that smart and for what he lacked in brains he made up for in false confidence, and he went and gave that old flagpole a good licking. And he’s the only kid in our whole town that ever did that without having to call the fire department, and he won twenty-five cents and a fine good shooter marble for it. I was the only one who didn’t bet him because my mother told me betting was a sin, and I didn’t want to go to hell. She was always telling me ways to get to hell and how to avoid them. She was a good momma that way.
            Any way I look around and everything seems normal. I check the fallen snow for unusual footprints, but it’s as smooth as a silk scarf. Not even a bird has landed in this snow yet.
            Usually when I’m out in the cold like this I get colder as time goes by, but not tonight. There’s a certain magic to it. I feel warmth envelop my whole body. I sigh. I don’t even feel tired anymore. I just feel one with the snow, with the trees, with the moon, and with the night. I don’t remember the last time I felt so at peace.
            This time it was much louder, confirming that the sound was coming from the woods. I’m jolted out of my tranquil moment and immediately my nerves are on edge. I glance around me quickly but don’t see anything at first, until I catch the quick brushing of a tree branch nearby. It shakes softly in the snow, as if something just whipped by and startled it for a moment, before it returns back to its steady state. I run over there but there’s nothing but nature. I look down and sure enough, there’s a fresh footprint.
            And it’s not human.
            Perhaps if I was one of those smarty scientists at an archeological dig, and I was standing out in the desert with all my colleagues in my khaki shorts and wiping the sweat from my brow with a bandana, I wouldn’t be so shocked. Hell, I’d probably be excited. I always see those guys on PBS specials just raving about the million-year-old footprints they find as if they were lost lottery tickets. But this isn’t some creature from long ago, half-man and half-animal; this is a real live thing living in my backyard and he is right on top of me.
            Even though every ounce of my husband-and-fatherly duty screams at me to chase him down, I know it’s downright suicide. I ain’t gonna abandon my family to this beast. So I run back to my shed and pull out my best shotgun- the one Daddy left for me all officially in his will and everything- make sure it’s loaded, grab a few extra rounds, and my best hunting hat. It’s a little dusty, but it still fits snug around my head. I run back out into the woods and re-discover the footprints. Crouching slightly and holding my gun at eye level, I begin to follow the trail.
            I always liked the woods at night, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself as I creep through it. I can just barely make out the outlines of trees as the canopy obscures the moonlight. I can’t see my breath in front of me but I know it’s there. Suddenly it’s much colder than it felt a moment ago, and I wish I had put on an extra flannel before leaving the house.  It creeps through my coat, then my shirt, then my skin, and finally it chills my bones. I walk as brittle as ice, each movement forced. My teeth chatter. I’m not even five hundred feet from home yet suddenly I feel like I’m in the middle of the Alaskan outback.
            Night is this creature’s domain and I am completely ill-prepared. As much as it pains me to admit it to myself, I cannot track it tonight. I’ll have to wait until morning.

            Something is poking me. I open one eyelid and see an extreme close-up of my daughter’s face. It is her finger constantly jabbing itself into my side.
            “Daddy?” she says, practically shouting. “Are you going to get up yet?”
            I roll over and yawn. “What time is it?”
            “Morning time, silly.”
            I check the clock on my nightstand and my eyes just about pop clear out of my head. It’s almost ten.
            I sit up and rub my head, as a rushing pain jolts through it. “Where’s your mother?” I manage to ask.
            “She told me to come get you. Said you wouldn’t shout at me like you would her.”
            We go into the kitchen and I say, “Tabitha, why are you telling our daughter that I’d shout at you?”
            “Well usually you don’t. But I didn’t know what to expect after your behavior last night.”
            “My behavior last night? What in God’s good earth are you talking about?” I didn’t see Tabitha again last night since she went to sleep. I just came back from the woods, put up my shotgun, and retired. She was already konked out to the world.
            But that’s not how she remembers it. She whirls around and points a finger in my face. “You were ranting like a lunatic,” she hisses. “Talking about some creature chilling your bones and the moonlight getting to you. I couldn’t make a lick of sense of it. And I kept asking you questions and you just ignored me, and muttered to yourself like one of those looneys in the crazy house. Then you just hit the bed and are out cold until just now. Doug, what is going on? Did you see something last night?”
            That’s when I remember the footprints. “Oh shit,” I say, and run outside, this time not even bothering with my coat. I go to the exact place where I saw the first one but it’s gone, but not because the snow melted. It’s gone like it were never there.

            Two hours later I’m at work, still trying to make sense of it. I curse myself for not hunting it down last night, although I know I did the right thing by going home. I also can’t explain why Tabitha would make that stuff up about how I was muttering to myself. I don’t want to call my wife a liar, but I downright know I wasn’t muttering to myself. I’d remember something like that.
            Chip comes in the store, whistling to himself. There’s a spring in his step. He browses a bit, putting on a show, then finally makes his way over to me. He leans on his elbow over the counter and says, “Growing a beard, huh?”
            I blink at him. “What?”
            He scratches my chin and I pull away quickly. I touch it myself, and realize he’s right. I’ve got a good tussle of hair on my chin and growth on my cheeks. “I just forgot to shave this morning, that’s all. Got up a bit later than usual.”
            Chip shook his head. “That ain’t a day’s worth of hair, Doug. Not for you, anyway. Remember that camping trip we took out to Crook’s Hollow right after graduation? We was gone three days and you forgot your razor. Hairiest I ever saw you, until today. And you weren’t nearly as hairy then.”
            “I ain’t growing no beard,” I assure him.
            “Well shit, it’s not a crime or anything, I was just curious.”
            “It may as well be a crime,” I say tartly. “In my book, it is. I’ll shave as soon as I go home, that you can count on.”
            Chip held up his hands. “Bit testy, are we, Doug?”
            “Yeah, maybe a bit.” I sigh. I need to talk to someone about this and Lord knows my wife is already frightened enough as it is. I might as well tell Chip. “You remember that face Tab apparently saw the other night? Well, there’s been some developments.”
            Chip raises an eyebrow. “What kind of developments? You catch the goon?”
            “No, not yet. But I’ve seen his footprints. He’s a big fellow and he don’t mind the cold. And he likes the night over the day, that’s for sure. And he’s fast.”
            “And he has yellow eyes,” Chip added. “Doug, I ain’t no smarty pants but if I put two and two together here it sure does add up to Bigfoot.”
            I glare at him. I mean I glare at him for a long, long time. He glares back though, even though he’s twitching a bit. Finally I sigh and say, “Damn that looney hippie to hell,” and I walk away, leaving Chip pretty confused.
            I go in the bathroom and examine my face in the mirror. Chip is right. I’m the hairiest I’ve ever been my whole life. The Sunday night before the first day of sixth grade my daddy pulled me into the bathroom and settled me in front of the mirror. He kept his big sweaty hands on my shoulders but I didn’t complain because I knew he had something important to say. I looked at myself in the mirror as he talked and I couldn’t see his face in there, only a portion of his torso, and he only had on a white sleeveless shirt. Anyway he said that pretty soon, any day now actually, I’d start to grow hair like I was a dog, and so he was going to show me right then and there how to shave it off. He said it was important to shave every day, because men with beards were against America and couldn’t be trusted. I didn’t care about all that though. I was pretty excited to learn how to shave, and even though it was still another six months or so before I really needed it, I shaved every day starting that next morning, and have been doing so ever since. It wasn’t until that camping trip that I stopped, and it damn near drove me crazy. Couldn’t enjoy myself at all. First thing I did when getting home was grabbing that razor and locking myself in the bathroom until every last hair was gone.
            This was exactly what I was going to do as soon as I got home tonight. I only hope I didn’t drive myself crazy until then.
            I went back to the register and Chip is still there, but he’s not leaning over the counter anymore. He’s browsing again. He does this from time to time, just wanders into the store and looks around like he’s an actual customer. He’s never bought anything though, not even once. If the old man saw him, he’d definitely kick him out. But Chip is lucky. I ain’t seen the old man all day. He must be working the books at home or something and will be in later, most likely.
            Chip waits a few minutes, probably making sure I’ve simmered down enough not to bite off his head, and he says, “You know Doug, I’ve been thinking about this… er, creature… and well, we can’t very well have something that weird hanging out in the woods behind your house, you know? It ain’t good for Tab and Lily.”
            “Don’t tell me what ain’t good for my own family, Chip, I know damn well it ain’t good.”
            “Well all I’m saying is, we should do something about it. You know, track him down, figure this whole thing out. Don’t you think? I mean, what if it really is some kind of… hell demon or something? That can’t be good.”
            “So you think we should go out in the woods and look for him?” I ask.
            “Well why the hell not?” Chip asks, getting a little excited. “It’s been ages since you and I have been out in the woods together. It’ll be like old times, like when we was kids. You got your daddy’s rifle and I got my gun too, and we can even take the tent, you know, just in case we need to do a stake-out.”
            I glare at him again. Then I say, “Okay.”

            I’m surprised to find that Tabitha is actually okay with this plan. Not only that, she seems relieved by it. We don’t say anything to Lily of course, who would probably want to come with us if she knew about it. Tab takes her into town to buy some new shoes, and Chip and I don’t waste any time getting out there. We only have a few precious hours of daylight.
            The old man never did show up and when I called him, nobody answered. I left a message on his machine, telling him I had an emergency to attend to and that I was leaving the store in the capable hands of the assistant manager. I told him he could call me at home. I didn’t tell him I wouldn’t be there, but he can be raw about it all later.
            After putting on my best hiking boots and zipping up my thick coat, I head to the shed for my rifle. Chip is right behind me, already looking around suspiciously, as if the creature is suddenly going to be right next to us. I open up the shed and stand there, staring at the empty spot where my gun should be.
            Chip says, “Where the hell’s your rifle, Doug?”
            “Well geez Chip, if I knew where it was, why would I look where it wasn’t?”
            “Did you put it somewhere else?”
            I glare at him and he shuts up. I think. I know I put my rifle back in the shed after last night, I’m positive of it. I wouldn’t have brought it into the house without a reason. Tabitha is downright scared of guns and only lets me keep this one because it was my daddy’s, and she once told me if I ever brought it into the house for any other reason other than to shoot somebody who was attacking us, she’d divorce me. I take those threats seriously.
            But where the hell’s my rifle?
            Chip knows better than to say anything so he helps me look for it in silence. We search the area around the shed for a few minutes before going into the house. I retrace my footsteps from the front door to my bedroom, look under my bed and in my closet, and then go outside and investigate the carport. The gun is nowhere to be found. We go out to where I first saw the footprints, and it’s not there either. Lastly I check my car, to no avail.
            “That damn lunatic stole my gun,” I declare.
            “Now we gotta get him,” Chip says, getting real riled up now. He’s so excited he can barely keep still. “Don’t worry, Doug, I got this baby right here and I got your back. We can still go. Just take your good knife. He may be a big guy but he’ll be no match for us.”
            I don’t really need his vote of confidence. Anyone who messes with my family and my gun has got to be stopped. “All right,” I say. “Let’s go.”

            Twelve years ago, Chip’s daddy and uncle took us two on a hunting trip through these very woods. I remember thinking how vast they were, and a like a child I thought that the trees could almost swallow me up. I’d look up and they’d just go on forever, all the way up into the clouds and into Heaven it seemed like. So I stayed close to Chip’s daddy and he seemed to like that. He even let me wear his good hunting cap.
            We had gotten there early, before sunrise, and found a good spot to wait. With the sun came the deer, and we watched them, biding our time, until Chip’s daddy finally went for it. He missed though and all the deer around scattered. I remember him cursing and wondering if he was going to hell. Then I wondered if killing a deer was the same thing as killing a person. I guess the Bible says no but the Ten Commandments don’t exactly specify. So I decided I didn’t really have any business killing anything until I knew I was right by the Lord.
            But not Chip. He ended up nabbing a squirrel with a bow and arrow on that trip. I still remember him carrying the carcass by the puffy tail, holding it up above his head like a medal. His uncle gave him a good pat on the back for it but his daddy frowned, saying he could put an eye out with that thing. That seemed to ruffle his feathers a bit and he didn’t talk much the rest of the trip.
            Anyway that was the beginning of Chip’s tracking career. Over the years he’s killed all kinds of things. His house is decorated with some of them. Every year at Christmas he gives us a good chunk of meat for the freezer, and saves us a bundle of money. When we were juniors in high school, Scott Kelley dared Chip that he couldn’t track a person in the woods, if the person knew he was being tracked. Chip said such a thing would be easy, as people are more careless than animals. So they wagered a nice set of fillet knives that Scott had gotten for his sixteenth birthday. Nobody knew for sure but the rumor was that Scott got a good beating from his father for losing those knives, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to tell Chip that. It’d just be more icing on the cake. If you ask me, I ain’t a violent man but Scott Kelley should have known better. Betting’s a sin and betting against Chip is just plain stupid. Everybody ought to know that by now.
            So that’s why I let Chip take the lead without complaining when he asks, “Wanna bet I can find this thing by nightfall?”
            “Sure as the rain falls from the sky and not the other way around,” I reply. “But think before you shoot. I just about am positive he’s a person.”
            “I ain’t ever seen a person act like this.”
            “Sure but I’ve seen the footprints. Look he might be some kind of freaky weirdo but you definitely don’t want to end up on Death Row just because you spooked yourself.”
            Chip takes this advice in stride and we keep going through the woods. I can feel the temperature drop a bit but I’m not really that much colder. The sun is definitely on its way down. Even in the dwindling light, Chip keeps a keen eye. “I think it went this way,” he said, pointing somewhat east.
            I nod and follow him. We walk a few more minutes in silence until suddenly Chip stops, scratches the back of his neck, and says, “Huh, well I’ll be.”
            “What is it?”
            He looks up suddenly, as if he’s surprised I’m still here, then shakes his head. “Oh it’s nothing… just saw something weird but it’s just a rock. Let’s keep going.”
            The sun sinks lower but Chip’s determination only grows. He begins to mutter to himself, and it’s almost as if I’m not even there. I begin to think about supper, about maybe calling it a night and starting up again in the morning. I want to catch this guy but my stomach’s growling. Just when I’m about to suggest pausing and discussing our options real quick, Chip stops suddenly again and says, “Well get me a dog and name him Bingo. We got ourselves a footprint.”
            I stride up next to him and he’s right. It’s the exact same footprint Lily and I found the day before. And it’s not the only one. Chip points outward and sure enough, there’s a beautiful, almost pristine trail just aching to lead us to our bounty.
            We waste no time. The snow is a bit too deep to really run, but we walk quickly. The trail is obviously not random. This guy has somewhere to be. He didn’t stop for anything. I want to ask Chip exactly how fresh these are but I’m too excited to have a conversation. We can figure it all out later.
            After following the trail deeper into the woods for another ten minutes or so, we both stop. The trees are thinning out and a little clearing is ahead of us. It’s not that big, just large enough to house a small shack of a cabin, half broken down, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. I can tell by the way Chip stares at it that it’s new to him too. All these years prancing around these woods and neither one of us have ever come this way.
            And the footprints stop right at the front door.
            We look at each other.
            “There ain’t no other trails,” Chip says, stating the obvious.
            “No he’s in there all right.”
            “Should we check it out?”
            I chew on that a bit. “Seems like that’s what we came out here to do.”
            “We could do a stake out.”
            “Nah, it’s getting too dark. He could elude us easily, I think. We got to use the sun while we still can.”
            Chip nods, though I can tell all his confidence is gone. “Well then, do you want to go first?”
            I don’t mind admitting that the truth is I almost don’t want to. But I didn’t come all this way for nothing, and my family is depending on me. Besides, he’s got my daddy’s rifle, which is probably inside that cabin. I muster up my courage and say, “Well naturally I do.”
            I can tell Chip wishes he could back down but he doesn’t, and he follows me. I get to the door, take a breath, and knock on it. There’s no answer. I knock again just to make sure, knowing that if I were in this man’s shoes, I sure as hell wouldn’t answer the door. And like a sensible person, he doesn’t. So I try the knob, and it’s locked. I open my mouth to say something but Chip pushes by me and rams the end of his gun into the door, pounding loudly. To my surprise, it gives a bit.
            “This thing is in worse shape than I thought,” I say.
            Chip nods. “I think we can break it down. Want to help me?”
            We get a running start and throw our full body weights into the door, and it submits to us. A cloud of dust pops up though and we cough and hack for a moment until it clears. Chip calls inside, “Anyone home?”
            No answer.
            He nods for me to go first, and I walk in carefully. There’s no furniture or anything in the cabin and it’s even smaller than I thought it was. It’s hardly the size of my living room. And all the windows are boarded up, with only a few specks of sunlight poking through. The floor is covered with a layer of dust and so are the windowsills. I look for a light switch but there’s not one. In fact, the only thing that’s really in there is another door.
            “Is that the bathroom?” Chip wonders.
            “Maybe he’s in there,” I reply. “Well we came this far, might as well keep going.”
            This door is not locked. It opens right under my hand. I look inside. There are no windows so I only have the little light behind me to see what’s in there, but it ain’t no bathroom. It’s a small walk-in closet with steel walls, which look completely out of place but yet there they are. I can hear Chip behind me, and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small flashlight. He shines it in.
            “What are those on the walls, back there?” he asks, shining the light on them.
            My skin chills, but not because of the draft of the cabin. It’s because on those walls are a set of steel handcuffs and ankle chains, and leaning against the wall next to them is my daddy’s rifle.
            I turn to Chip and to say, “We need to get-“
            But before I can finish, my head meets the butt of his gun. I see a flash in his eyes right as my lights go out.

            When I come to, it takes me a moment to get the feeling back in my whole body. My vision is blurry for a bit but a few blinks makes the room come clear. I shake my head. Bits of dust fall out of my hair onto the ground. My legs are killing me. I look down at them and realize why; they are scrunched up under my body bent halfway backwards. My arms hurt too, but they feel more sore. My wrists are in chains. I am alone.
            At first I don’t quite remember what happened, but starting at my house, finding my gun missing, it slowly starts to come back. Chip did this. Well, he hit me over the head at least. I can only assume he chained me up too. What on earth possessed him to do such a thing? He’s never been the pillar of stability but he’s usually harmless. The only time I remember him doing anything a bit crazy was in seventh grade, when Donald Heinrich made fun of Jenny Booker’s pigtails, or her jumper, or something stupid. Well right there in the middle of class and everything, Chip leapt out of his seat and clocked the guy right in the cheek. Donald toppled out of his chair and made a big scene of it, screaming and whining like Chip had stabbed him or something. Chip got suspended from school and a visit with the principal’s infamous wooden paddle. He said it was worth it though, because later Jenny Booker let him get to second base. And everyone thought she was a good girl.
            Well I don’t remember defiling anyone’s honor or doing anything else to piss him off. I suppose I have to wait until he comes back, assuming he’s coming back, to ask him what in the world is this all about. Meanwhile I’m hot as a Thanksgiving turkey. This cabin isn’t nearly as drafty as it seems and it feels like the heat is turned up to the max. I wish I could air out my shirt at least. My clothes are clinging to my body.
            The door to the cell (because that’s really what it is) is closed and I can’t tell exactly what time it is, but it feels like night. Maybe early, early morning. I’m sure Tabitha is worried sick about me. She’s probably called the police by now. They’ve gone to Chip’s I bet but I’m sure he’s not there, or else he’s making up some kind of story about how he lost me in the woods. That sounds more like him. He’d want to sound like he did everything he could to find me, but he couldn’t catch his death of cold out there in the dead of night, and so he had no choice but to give up the search until daybreak. The police would most likely agree with him, and in that case, I still got a few hours before anyone attempts to start looking for me. And if Chip’s with them, he’ll purposely lead them off track. Depending on exactly what his motivation is in keeping me here, I could be here a very long time.
            Times like this I wish my daddy were still with us. He wouldn’t stand for this nonsense for a second. As soon as Tab called him and told him I was missing, he’d be out here in a jiffy, bearing his rifle. And he’d find me too. That man could find a strand of blond hair in a mile-high haystack.
            Finally the aches in my wrists catch up to me. I try to look at them, but can’t quite turn my head all the way to see them. So there we were, tracking this man monster thing into this cabin, and suddenly Chip attacks me. Well I don’t believe in all that supernatural nonsense but let’s just say, for sake of argument, that this cabin has some kind of mystical powers. Maybe a spirit or a demon got ahold of Chip and brainwashed him. Maybe he’s under some kind of spell. I admit, it’s a bunch of baloney, but after all I’ve been through the last couple of days, who the hell knows. I mean what is more likely? That Chip up and lost his mind all of a sudden for no reason, or that he’s bewitched?
            I sigh.
            Neither of them seems likely.
            I smack my lips. I’m a bit parched, but oddly enough I’m full. I didn’t eat anything before we went on our hunt, and so I haven’t eaten since lunch. Did Chip force-feed me? Whatever he did sure did fill me up. I roll my tongue around to see if there’s any taste left, but there’s not much of one. Maybe some meat.
            I lean my head back against the wall and sigh. I’ve got nothing to do but wait, and wonder.

            I have no idea how much time passes before I finally hear the door to the cabin creak open. Chip and I had busted it down (that I remember from the dull pain in my shoulder) but he must have rehindged it. Heavy footsteps pound the floors and the door to my cell swings open, and Chip greets me, gun barrel first. One eye is squinted even though he shouldn’t have any problems seeing me, as I am barely a couple feet away from him.
            “Which son of a bitch made out with my girlfriend in front of everyone at the junior prom?” he asks.
            I blink. “What?”
            “You heard me. If you’re really Doug, if you’re really my friend, you’ll know the answer. Who made a fool out of me-“
            “Mike Tanner,” I reply. “That’s why you took his car in that stupid bet. You were all raw about him making out with Amy even though she had dumped you the day before.”
            “She didn’t dump me!” Chip exclaims. “She just said she needed some time to think, as soon as prom was over.”
            “That’s neither here nor there, Chip. The real problem at hand is why the hell am I chained up in a hidden cabin in the woods? What in God’s name has gotten into you?”
            Chip glares at me. “Oh no Doug, that is not the problem. The problem is what in God’s name has gotten into you. But don’t you worry. I think I have it all figured out. Gotta keep you chained up though, for Tab and Lily’s sake at least, if not for the sake of all of us.”
            “I don’t have time for this,” I say, attempting to be patient. “Why don’t you just get on with whatever crazy thing you think I did, so I can tell you you are an idiot, and you can unchain me and I can kick your ass, and then-“ suddenly I stop. I look up at him. “Wait, are you meaning to imply that I’m the looney hippie that’s been stalking my house?”
            “Naw you ain’t that bad, you’re just like a werewolf or something.”
            I glare at him for a long time, waiting for the punch line, but there is none. He really believes himself. He pulls out a pocket mirror from his jeans and holds it up in front of me. I look into it, and my mouth falls open. My beard is twice as thick as it was yesterday when I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, and my hair on my head was longer too. It was almost to my jawline.
            “I don’t know what’s happening with my hair,” I admit. “I must have caught a weird bacteria or something- maybe I ate something weird. But I’m not turning into any damn wolf. Look at me, I know I’m hairy but I’m still a person.”
            “It’s not just the hair,” Chip continues. “It’s your behavior too. Tab told me how you were ranting about the night before. And how come you ain’t cold, Doug? It’s in the teens right now and this cabin ain’t got no heat. You’re sweating buckets there.”
            “I’ve always run warm,” I say, getting irritated. “And I don’t know what Tab’s going on about but I didn’t act weird at all. She’s the one acting weird. But again I say, even if I was, that still don’t make me a wolf.”
            Chip shook his head. “I need to know for sure. Tomorrow night is the last full moon of the month. If you don’t change, I’ll let you go. But you’ll thank me if you do change, won’t you, Doug? Bet you your whole house that you’ll change and you’ll thank me for not setting you out on your family.”
“Chip you have downright lost your mind. You can’t keep me here. You can’t keep me prisoner.”
            “Don’t think of it like that, Doug,” he says sincerely. “I’m doing this for your own good, and for the good of your family. I mean what if you’re some kind of monster and I let you free and you kill us all? What kind of friend would that make me?”
            “What kind of friend does this make you?” I shout, holding out the chains.
            Chip sighs. “You’re mad at me now, but like I said, you’ll thank me later.”
            “And what are you going to tell Tabitha anyway?” I continue. “She’s going to ask where I am. What are you going to say?”
            “I was figuring the truth.”
            I glare at him again. I know it sounds silly but I guess I keep thinking that if I glare at him enough, I can will him into coming to his senses. “And how do you suppose she’ll react to that?” I hiss. “Do you think she’s just going to believe you, trust you? I mean are you even listening to yourself?”
            “I know it’s crazy!” Chip exclaims. “But I’m trying to do the right thing here Doug! What would you do, if you found out I was going all apeshit and about to eat people?”
            “I’d get proof first! All you have is me being hot and hairy, and Tabitha overreacting to something I must have said in my sleep the other night. That’s it! That don’t make me a werewolf and it sure as hell don’t justify you going all Judas on me!”
            “I ain’t no Judas!” Chip shouts. “I expected more from you, Doug. Here I am, trying to do right by you and your family, and all I ask for is a little cooperation, a little appreciation. But instead you just can’t stand that I might be right about something for once. You just may really need me this time and you can’t stand that.”
            He picks up his gun and slings it over his shoulder. “Now I’m gonna leave before things get out of control. I’m gonna go cool down and ponder a bit. I’ll bring you some water and food in a couple hours.”
            I try to call out to him, but he ignores me, and is gone into the wee daylight hours. I’m left alone in my chains with nothing but my thoughts.
            How would Tabitha react to this? I’d like to say she’d be reasonable and think Chip has lost his mind, like I do, but I’m not so sure. This whole ordeal has rattled her so badly, not to mention her natural anxiety, that she may just buy into it. Without me around to talk sense into her, Chip is the next best thing. And he’s so earnest that it’s hard not to believe him. Hell, I might even believe him if it weren’t me he was talking about. One way or the other, however, there is something I’m sure Tabitha would insist upon: she’d want to see me. And Chip wouldn’t be able to stop her... not without using force. I frown at this. I certainly don’t like the idea of them getting into it. Especially if Lily is around.
            I pull on my chains a bit in vain, knowing full well that it’s a lost cause. These things are thick and metallic. Where did Chip find the keys? I look around, but there’s no wooden key holder like the kind we made back in shop class with little hooks attached to it or anything. He had to find them somewhere. I certainly hope he didn’t lock me up without a method of getting me out.
            I realize it’s time to face the facts. I am warm, when I should be cold. I am hairy, and I don’t much recall the events of the last few nights. I don’t really remember getting to bed or anything. But that doesn’t make me a werewolf. Maybe I’m just sick. Maybe I’ve been infected with some kind of rare bacteria from South America that gives me a fever and makes my hair grow fast. Well that sounds crazy but it’s certainly makes more sense than being a werewolf.
            How do I convince Chip of this? He clearly won’t listen to reason. I have to find a more creative approach.
            By the time he returns with food and water, I think I’ve got it. He asks me if I need to go to the bathroom and I lie and say no. I wish I could have the same willpower with the food but I practically inhale it. Once I’m finished, I get to the point.
            “I’ve had a lot of time to think, Chip, and I suppose I might as well be honest with you. You figured it out, Chip. I’m a werewolf.”
            “I knew it!” He exclaims.
            I nod. “Yes, yes. But as you might assume, Chip, that people are not quite on the up and up when it comes to us werewolves. There are a lot of… tall tales told about us. We don’t want to scare people so we just let them think what they think and all that, but since you’re my friend, and you’re on to me anyway, I was thinking… how would you like to know the true secrets of the werewolf? No holds barred?”
            Chip’s eyes widen at this, and I know I’ve hit the jackpot. He didn’t expect me to be all honest and straight-forward with him, and now I’ve not only surprised him, I’ve tapped into his natural curiosity. Not only that, but the knowledge that he’d be one of the precious few humans who actually know about us is about as tempting as a naked woman sprawled out on a bed. But Chip ain’t stupid, at least not most of the time, and he quickly narrows his eyes at me and says, “Something tells me you ain’t just gonna divulge this information free of charge, are you, Doug?”
            I shrug. “Well, I just think we’d both be a little more comfortable sitting together at Bailey’s, sharing a pint- my treat of course- while I tell you how this whole thing came about, than me sitting here on this hardass floor in chains while you pace around me. I mean, ain’t you cold?”
            He’s shivering, but he shrugs it off and says, “A wee bit.”
            “Yeah I mean what kind of sense does this make really? I ain’t gonna kill you, Chip. That’s one of the cardinal rules of werewolfdom. We don’t kill friends and family. I mean think about it. If I was gonna kill you- or Tab or Lily for that matter- wouldn’t I have done it the last few nights when I was free and hanging around the house?”
            Chip chews on that. “Well, I guess that there is a good point.”
            “Exactly. And also, er, this isn’t my first month of being a werewolf.”
            Chip raises his eyebrow. “Really? How long you’ve been a werewolf, Doug?”
            “I will tell you everything, every single thing you want to know, if you just let me out of these chains and let me go home and check on my family. Then we’ll have a pint at Bailey’s and chat the night away. Come on, Chip, what do you think?”
            I have him. I can tell in his eyes. He makes a big scene about mulling it over, but his curiosity and ego have already won. Finally, he says, “All right. But you ain’t getting your rifle back.”
            “Fine, fine.” Dammit.
            “Don’t make me regret this, Doug,” he says, and he leans over, pulling the key out of his pocket.

            I am running. I am running faster through the snow than I have ever run before, or so it feels like. My heart is pumping in my chest but it is not pounding, it is steady with my feet. My arms sway at my side almost in a haze and I feel the cold air just flow off me, almost as if it is parting itself for me. I dodge the trees and the uneven roots and the jagged rocks. I bounce from space to space. I am free. I am free. I am so happy to be free.
            I am at my house suddenly, so sudden I take a moment to make sure my bearings are correct. Then I leap for the front door, but find it locked. I don’t have my house keys; Chip must have hidden them somewhere. I should have checked his pockets for them, but I didn’t know how much time I had. I knock on the door heavily. I know Tab is here, both cars are here. I knock again, and finally, she opens the door.
            I rush into her arms and hug her fiercely. “Tab, I’m so glad to be home. I’m so sorry I left you. You must have been-“
            But she does not hug me back. I pull away and study her face.
            She’s as white as a sheet. She mutters something under her breath that I don’t quite catch, but in that moment I notice we are not alone in the house. I look behind her and see our entire local family sitting in the living room, staring at me, not one of them smiling, not one of them even neutral. Their faces are all ablaze with fear.
            “What is this?” I say cautiously. “What- what are you all doing here? Are we having a reunion that I forgot about or something?”
            Nobody answers me. But it is my father-in-law who speaks up and says, “Where’s Chip, Doug?”
            I frown. “Do you… do you guys know what happened? Chip and I went into the woods-“
            “Yes, Tabitha told us,” he interrupted. “But where is Chip now? Why isn’t he with you?”
            I look from face to face. Most of them do not meet my eyes, and Vanessa is there, shaking her head. I look back at Tabitha, but she too cannot meet my gaze. “Tab, what’s going on here?”
            “Don’t talk to my daughter,” Vanessa’s voice comes out strong. “You lost that right.”
            “And you may lose others too, if you don’t tell us where Chip is right now,” her husband concluded.
            “What in the hell has gotten into everyone?” I exclaim. “This is my house. I haven’t done anything wrong. Chip is out in the woods, yes, but he chained me up like a madman! That’s where I’ve been this whole time- I finally talked him into letting me free. He’s downright crazy, thinking I’m a werewolf.”
            Everyone stares at me, and I go to open my mouth again, when my father-in-law stands up and approaches me. He stands right in front of me and says, “Doug, I’m only going to ask you this once. What is Chip doing out in the woods?”
            I sigh. “I had to knock him out, to get free. He ain’t dead or hurt or nothing. I can take you to him if you want.”
            He turns and looks at the others, then says, “I don’t think he knows.”
            “Pfft, that’s obvious,” Vanessa says. “Doug’s always been a bit thick.”
            “Feel free to talk about me as if I’m not here,” I say irritably.
            My father-in-law turns back to me and says, “Doug you might want to sit down. We need to talk… we need to have a talk we should have had back when you and Tab first started going together, before your daddy died.”
            The funny thing is I almost sit down. Well maybe that’s not the funny thing. Maybe the funny thing is that I had been sitting down the whole time, metaphorically I mean. Ever since my daddy died and Tab and I got together, this man has been telling me to sit down. And his wife has been judging me. But I endured it for the love of my family, of my daughter in particular. But a strange feeling passes over me in that moment, or more like it’s a strange thought. But I suddenly realize that this is the end of the road as I know it for me, although I’m not exactly sure why, but the reason almost doesn’t matter. I just realize that if I sit down and let him say whatever it is he wants to say, that that’ll be it for me, and I won’t have a say so in anything anymore. If I want that say so, if I want to protect my choice, I can’t sit down. I have to do the opposite. I have to run.
            But I’m not running alone.
            “Lily!” I shout. “Lily, where are you?”
            “Grab him!” somebody shouts, but my sleeve slips out of his hand, and I’m down the hall. Lily heard me call for her and she opened her door, and is standing there with an elated look in her face.
            “Come on, honey, we gotta go!” I say as I swoop her up.
            “Where are we going Daddy?” she asks, but I don’t answer her. The hall is blocked. My father-in-law and others are behind him, coming down it, and I sweep into Lily’s room and see her open window. We scramble out of it, quicker than I think is possible, and land in the snow below. I jump up and pick her up again, and we’re running. A few seconds later the backdoor busts open and I can hear my relatives shouting at me, and Tabitha’s frightful cry. But I don’t stop. I don’t stop for anything. I run with my daughter clutched in my hands back through the woods, as if a rope has lassoed me and is pulling me where I need to be. After a few minutes I can’t hear the shouts anymore, and it feels like we are flying.
            The sun sets and darkness creeps over us like a cloak, and we are immersed in it. I slow down to a walk and Lily looks up at the sky. I wonder what’s going on in her little mind. “You okay, sweetheart?” I ask. “You ain’t scared, are you?”
            She shakes her head and points up at ripe full moon. “I ain’t scared of nothing, Daddy. It’s just like you said. As long as we can see the moon, we are free.”

            And then she looks right at me, with a yellow fire burning in her eyes.