- by Gitabushi
Peeking out through a slight gap in the curtains, I watched Craig pull into the motel parking lot in a shiny, brand-new BMW, as expected. I saw the front end dip as he braked, could almost imagine his eyes scanning for, and finding, the way to my room. Less than 100 yards, but the car surged forward as Craig floored the accelerator, then a squeal of tires as he swung the car into a parking place as if it were on rails.
Typical Craig. He tended to do things just because he could. It would get him in trouble someday, and that day was rapidly approaching. Maybe even tonight. My hands felt sweaty, and I went to wipe them on a guest towel.
Before heading out the door, I grabbed all the accoutrements of going out for the evening: keys, wallet, cellphone, Sig Sauer, knife. This wasn’t a concealed carry state, but every state is a concealed carry state if you aren’t caught, right? Besides, I’ve found the penalties for being caught with a pistol were far better than the consequences of being caught without one.
Craig saw me as soon as I came out my door. He rolled down his window, but said nothing and showed no warmth. His hair was perfect, though. It wasn’t until I slid into the passenger seat that he smiled and stuck out his hand. I grasped it firmly.
“Hey, Burke, it is really good to see. It has been a while, hasn’t it?” I agreed it had been.
“When was the last time? The 2015 State Championship game?” I made a non-committal grunt. Craig was technically correct, but you could also there wasn’t really a last time for us, because Craig was a changed man. Or perhaps a better word for it would be “a changing man.”
“You’re as talkative as ever. But it is good to see you. It really is.”
I thanked Craig for coming to pick me up, murmured something about saving Lyft fare. Craig made a “nothing to it” gesture, then pressed a button on the dash, and the familiar intro to Styx’ “Mr. Roboto” slammed into my ears, and my heart. For a moment, I was transported back to high school, the same tableau: Craig driving his convertible BMW, me sitting shotgun, listening to Styx on a cool October evening, heading to a party.
Then I returned to the present. I turned to Craig and gave him my best smile, to show I was still lost in the moment, that the years since high school had meant nothing, and that the ties of friendship still bound me. Which were, of course, all lies.
We arrived at the Homecoming Party, went in. Craig and I had been best friends, everyone expected to see us together, and he seemed as reluctant to shake me as I was to shake him. We caught on up the last few years of our lives, told stories of our passions, our disappointments. I had way too many of the latter, too few of the former. Craig apparently had experienced an unbroken series of successes. I believed him.
In between, we had a steady stream of friends, acquaintances, ex-girlfriends, rivals and teammates stop by our corner to say hello, to catch up, to touch base and assure each of us we were all still real.
The conversations were all the same: “How are you doing? You’re looking good! What have you been doing with yourself the last 20 years? Yeah, it was good to see you again, too!” For fun, I gave different answers to each person, just to see if Craig would catch on.
“Trash removal.” “Sanitation engineer, eh?” “No, I just take out trash.”
“Just filling out all the paperwork in triplicate and making sure the TPS reports have the cover sheet.”
After a few of those sorts of random-sounding answers, Craig shot me a side-eyed glance, a smile quirked on his face, and he began giving random answers as well:
“Strategic Evolutionary Theorist.”
“Body modification consultant.”
I gave no sign, other than to high five him for the most creative.
The night wound down. We’d reconnected. We’d had enough to drink. We headed out.
“Let’s head up to Round Top.”
‘Yeah, I’d like to see the moonrise from there myself.”
The road was maybe a little rough for the Beemer. Craig didn’t make it any easier on the car, taking the road at pretty much the maximum speed possible, even when the potholes and general deterioration of the surface made that barely better than a crawl.
We reached the summit. Craig switched the engine off. We sat in the silence, in the dark, hearing the tick and ping of the cooling engine.
Craig’s voice appeared in the darkness, like motion in the abyss.
“Burke, for the sake of old times, I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen. In a few minutes, the moon is going to rise. You’re going to see me, and after seeing me, you’re going to run…but here’s some advice for my old pal.“
“Shut up. Burke, you’re going to run, but you shouldn’t. You’ll only die tired, as the old saying goes. But either way, you’re going to die. If you run, I might not be able to control myself. I might not be able to make it quick and clean. But just remember, it isn’t personal.”
I said nothing.
“Okay, maybe it is personal.
“Burke, you were my best friend, but I learned to hate you. I used to look up to you so much. Everyone loved and admired you. Remember Eliza? All those hours I spent helping her pass math class until she moved away, and when she called back to talk to Crystal, all she said about us was to ask if your ass was still cute.
“You had everything going for you. You were at the top of the class for grades, and every teacher loved you. They pulled you up to the varsity basketball team your freshman year. You lettered in wrestling every year. If that weren’t enough, you made the All-State Band.
“So you ripped the heart out of all us when you disappeared. I’d say you especially hurt me, but you know you hurt someone else even worse. She loved you, Burke, she really loved you.
“After you left, I had to listen to her sob on the phone for hours. I had to listen to her spin ever-more-complex theories of why you left, why you never made contact again, all the great things you were doing.
“She died of a broken heart, you know. Nothing I did for her could fill the void you left.
“And I listened to you talk tonight. I know you were bullshitting. I know you well enough, even after all these years, to know you were covering for being embarrassed. For being ashamed. Whatever you left us all behind for, it wasn’t worth it, was it?”
I didn’t have anything to say in response. It was all true.
“Well, I made something of myself, Burke. I became something you could never imagine. I hold the power of life and death in my hands every month.
“Still, I’m pleased you stuck around for more than a few minutes, unlike the last time. I’m glad you got to see people, hear about all the moments you’ve missed out on. The number of people who came to pay tribute to your high school popularity should show you how important you were to us: the people you threw away. I’m glad you got a chance to see it for yourself. It gives everything a nice closure.”
We sat in silence.
I became aware of a slight increase in illumination. Craig sighed, sounding satisfied, or maybe frustrated.
“See that? The moon is coming up. It’s going to be a huge full moon tonight, almost bright enough to see color. If you’re going to run, you’d better get started now. And you know what? I hope you do.”
In the slowly-brightening dimness, I could see subtle changes in his face. His grin was less devil-may-care, more lupine. His incisors seemed longer, and he looked like he hadn’t shaved this morning.
I thrust with the knife. I was at a disadvantage in the dark. Before the knife could reach its mark, my hand was caught in a vice-like grip, bruising, crushing. He knew what he was doing: my bones didn’t –quite!—crack.
I fumbled with the door handle, managed to get it open. I pushed to tumble out backwards, dragging Craig with me. I landed on my back, and it knocked the wind out of me, the first unplanned moment of the evening. It was almost my undoing.
Craig got his other hand up, reaching for my throat. His strength was terrifying, as it always is when they change.
But like all of them, he has only two hands. One on my wrist, one on my throat. He had no other limbs to restrain my other hand, which was free to pull my pistol.
The silver bullet caught him in the ribs, and smashed through his heart. The silver was disruptive far beyond what a bullet would be to a human. He didn’t thrash, he didn’t gasp out any last words. He just stopped, mid-transformation, clearly no longer Craig…but just as clearly, recognizable as having been Craig.
This was my eighth werewolf. And the hardest because this was my first friend. Maybe I was ready for my next friend, who had become something even more horrible.